Friday's night's 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals was big for the Islanders in a couple of ways.
The win vaulted the Islanders to first place in the Metropolitan Division - the first time they'd led the division after the midpoint in a season since March 10, 2015.
The win was Head Coach Barry Trotz's first against his former team in what was his first game back in Washington.
Most importantly, the win showed just how effective the Islanders' new defensive system can really be.
Video: Islanders shut out Capitals in Trotz's return, 2-0
"It's one of those games where we forged a little bit of an identity," Trotz said. "We stayed to it, we didn't deviate. We talk about being a really good team and not just a group of players, but becoming a real good team. That means everybody contributes."
The Islanders held the defending Stanley Cup champions to 19 shots and zero goals on Friday night, using their structure to grind out their fourth straight win. Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck broke a scoreless draw with goals 2:26 apart in the third period, while Thomas Greiss picked up his second shutout of the season.
What it added up to was the Islanders sixth-straight road win and 14th in their 17 overall (14-3-0). As if a trip to Washington DC needed to be any harder, the Isles were playing the second half of a back-to-back set, but that's no sweat for the Islanders, who improved to 7-0-0 when playing the night before, another marker of how far they've come this season.
Video: NYI@WSH: Bailey deflects home Barzal's shot
"We've been continuously building," Clutterbuck said. "We played some solid hockey at the start of the year too, but it takes some experience to get to the point where you can come into a building like this and not be frazzled and on the back end of a back to back and know what you have to do and have everybody doing it."
With a win over the Caps and Columbus' 4-1 loss to Montreal, the Isles (60 points) vaulted themselves from third to first in the Metro Division with a one point lead over the two teams. While it feels good the night of, Trotz and co. kept things in perspective, calling the first-place standing "fleeting." Championships are not won in January, nor are playoff spots assured.
"We're still not even 50 games in here," Clutterbuck said. "The confidence has always been there with us. So maybe it's a re-affirmation as far as the storytellers go, but for us, we've always kind of believed. Not much more than that to say than that, we still have a long way to go."
Video: NYI@WSH: Capitals welcome Trotz back to Washington
CAPS PAY TRIBUTE TO TROTZ, LAMBERT AND KORN:
The Capitals played a video tribute for Barry Trotz, Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn in their return to Washington. All three coaches helped bring the Capitals their first Stanley Cup in June, before departing the team and joining the Islanders.
Trotz enjoyed the video and said he was grateful and appreciative for the tribute, even if he wasn't sure he deserved one. (He did.) Here are some of Trotz's thoughts:
"It was good. My heart got full of all the good memories… I was trying not to look too much because I think I was getting pretty close to that sensitive side of myself. It was extremely well done and it was just great memories and everybody who was a part of something special… It was so well done and I appreciate the Caps for doing that and including Lane and Mitch. It was a special four years we had here."
Video: Greiss earns Friday's Pepsi Zero Sugar Shutout
GREISS GETS THE SHUTOUT:
Thomas Greiss made 19 saves on Friday night for his second shutout of the season and 10th of his career.
Greiss was good when he needed to be, helping preserve a 0-0 tie through 40 minutes. Perhaps his best save came in the first period, lunging across to rob Andre Burakovsky on a backdoor pass from Lars Eller.
The win was his second straight, and a worthy follow-up effort after a 38-save, 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Video: NYI@WSH: Clutterbuck snaps one by Holtby on rush
BAILEY AND CLUTTERBUCK BREAK THROUGH:
Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck scored goals 2:26 apart in the third period, breaking open a scoreless draw.
Bailey deflected a Mathew Barzal wrister past Braden Holtby (23 saves) at 5:08 to put the Islanders ahead 1-0, while Clutterbuck picked Holtby high glove side off the rush at 7:34.
Bailey's goal was his 11th of the season, while Clutterbuck's was his fourth. Adam Pelech had a game-high two assists.
The Islanders take on the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon at NYCB Live. Puck drop is at 3 p.m.