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Islanders' Special Teams Clicking

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

Update: The Islanders power play scored for a fourth consecutive game on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. The penalty kill also went 2-for-2 against the Hurricanes, extending their streak to 23 straight kills. 

There was a lot to like about the Islanders’ 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. Jaroslav Halak posted his second shutout in three games and the Islanders got four goals without John Tavares hitting the scoresheet, but Jack Capuano put the spotlight elsewhere.

“Special teams were a big factor in tonight’s win,” Capuano said. “The power play got a big goal when we needed it.”

Both the Islanders’ power play and penalty kill are top-five in the NHL to start the season. The power play scored for a third consecutive game, pushing the Islanders to fifth in PP efficiency (25%), while the penalty kill has killed off 21 straight minors over the last six games. Shorthanded, the Islanders rank second in the league (91.2%).

“The penalty kill has been great all year,” Kyle Okposo said. “They’re on the same page and those guys take a lot of pride in it. It’s something we definitely wanted to improve on and those guys have done a heck of a job.”

The Islanders’ shorthanded unit held the Flames to one shot on goal on three power plays. The Islanders are keeping shots to the outside and sacrificing their bodies, blocking the second-most shots (147) in the NHL. When they do get the puck they’re clearing it, which takes 18-20 seconds off the clock by Capuano’s calculations.

“We want to make sure our PK forechecks eliminates their zone time and when we get a chance to clear the puck, that we clear it 200 feet,” Capuano said. “There’s always structure on a penalty kill, but there’s no structure when pucks go to the net. It’s game on. It’s battle level, it’s engaging and making sure you’re tying up sticks and that’s what they’ve done a real good job of.”

The penalty kill took its lumps early last season, but finished strong, allowing three goals in the final 18 games of the season (39-for-42). The unit – which is largely intact – has picked up where it left off.

“Being together for a second season, guys know what they are supposed to do on the ice,” Halak said on Monday. “They can count on each other out there.”

As for the power play, Tavares said familiarity and winning puck battles are another two factors to the current hot streak. The captain has a team-high four power play points.

“We’re more in sync with our structure and the thing we’re trying to accomplish,” Tavares said. “We’re working hard, we’re earning second and third opportunities and we’re getting pucks back. We’re doing a better job and I think it can be even better on breaking the puck in. But definitely some good things have been building.”

Capuano’s theory for the power play’s three-game scoring streak is improved zone entries, which coincides with Frans Nielsen and Nick Leddy’s presence on the top unit.

“He’s one of the best in the league,” Capuano said of Nielsen’s ability to skate the puck in. “Him and Nick Leddy have done a really good job. You have to think of it this way, it’s probably a 4:1 [success] ratio. Having Frans on the back end helps.”

The Islanders’ second unit can’t be discounted either, not with Johnny Boychuk’s big shot as a looming threat and the creativity of guys like Mikhail Grabovski – who scored a PPG on Monday – working in the slot.

“Great power-play goal by the other unit,” Okposo said on Monday. “Great play behind the net, Grabovski found that quiet area and [Josh Bailey] hit him with a great pass.”

Capuano just wants to see more shots on net. As he said, the penalty kill structure goes out the window when pucks get through and it becomes a battle of will around the net. Ugly goals count just as much as the pretty ones.

“For the most part you have to get pucks to the net. When you do that, you get an outnumbered attack at the net and rebounds go in,” he said.

There’s a lot to like about the Islanders’ special teams currently, and they’ll look to keep both streaks alive when they go for their seventh win in eight games on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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