Frans Nielsen’s second period goal Tuesday against Winnipeg was significant for a number of reasons. For one, it came with 28 seconds remaining in the second period and gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead heading into the intermission. But it also came on the only power play the Islanders saw all night and shifted momentum into the home team’s favor for the rest of the contest.
The genesis of the goal was something Head Coach Jack Capuano has preached all season: taking shots. Mark Streit’s point blast ricocheted off Josh Bailey in front of the goal, forcing a Winnipeg defenseman to turn away from Nielsen, who used the open space to quickly bury the rebound in the back of the net.
“Our power play is not going to change,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “Our mentality is to get pucks to the net. We did that the other night (at New Jersey) and we did it last night. That’s how we generate our offense. Systematically, every PK has a system that they use. But when pucks are around that dirty area, it’s game on. We have to continue to gain entry to the zone and shoot pucks when we have the opportunity to do so.”
Monday night against the Devils, the power play went 1-for-2, scoring when Lubomir Visnovsky threw a puck on net, setting up a rebound opportunity that John Tavares converted into a goal. Right wing Brad Boyes was on ice for that marker, which gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead midway through the third period and firm control of the game.
“The power play has been the difference at times,” Boyes said. “With the way our team is built, those timely goals are needed. In each of the last two games, we’ve put pucks on net, they’ve bounced to our guys, and we’ve had wide open nets.”
Special teams situations have been in short supply this season, which only emphasizes their importance. On three occasions this season, the Islanders power play units haven’t even taken the ice. Seven times in the last 11 games, the Islanders have had two opportunities or less on the man advantage. In those seven games, the Islanders are 4-for-10 on the power play, with all strikes except Tavares’ insurance tally against New Jersey proving to be game-winners.
“I think down the stretch you’re going to see more of that,” Capuano said of the lack of special teams scenarios. “Games are tighter. Guys are playing hard.”
Marty Reasoner, a key element of the Islanders penalty kill, added to Capuano’s point.
“Coming out of the last lockout (in 2004-05), there was a big emphasis on goals, and there was a bit of overkill with calling penalties,” Reasoner said. “It seemed like there’d be eight power plays for each side a night. But I think guys are a little more cautious now. Also, the refs are letting the players decide the games rather than deciding them with too many penalties.”
Reasoner and co. have killed all four power plays their opponents have had over the last three games. Winnipeg and New Jersey each had one man advantage, and neither team registered a shot on goal.
“There aren’t that many penalties, so every goal gets magnified that much more,” Reasoner said. “We haven’t given too many opportunities. If we only get two penalty kill situations a night, and we give up one or two goals, it’s a huge swing. If you can be good on the PK, it can be good for your momentum and demoralizing for their power play.”
The Islanders penalty kill has a tough test Thursday, when they take on the Washington Capitals on the road. The Capitals have the second-best power play in the league at 24.6%, but went 0-for-3 the last time the teams met on March 26, a 3-2 win for the Islanders.