BUFFALO -- Thomas Greiss made 42 saves, and Nikolay Kulemin scored 1:07 into the third period to give the New York Islanders a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Thursday.
The Islanders (21-12-5) have won three of their past four games. The Sabres (15-19-4) have lost four of their past five and three straight at home.
Greiss withstood a busy first period from the Sabres, who had three power plays, including 54 seconds of a 5-on-3, and put up 17 shots on goal that he stopped.
“Thank God for him because, you know, you go back and you come in and, I’m not a stats guy, but shots were even at even strength,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “I give that team (the Sabres) credit; they had 11 power-play shots in the first period and our goalie came up huge for us.”
The Sabres outshot the Islanders 17-5 in the period.
“He's been good for us all year, so we're not really surprised that he was there for us,” Islanders forward Frans Nielsen said. “We can't take that many penalties, especially that many in a row. It keeps Johnny [Tavares] off the ice. It keeps Kyle [Okposo] off the ice. It keeps a lot of our best players off the ice so they can't get in the game.”
Greiss made 15 saves in the third period, three when the Sabres pulled goalie Linus Ullmark for an extra attacker.
“Six-on-5, there's a lot of guys out there. Pretty much five goalies out there, six,” Greiss said. “Just battle, try your best, and try everything you can to keep the puck out there.”
Greiss made his third start in a row in place of Jaroslav Halak, who is out with an upper-body injury. Greiss is 2-1-0 with a .947 save percentage in those games.
“He works hard, and, again, I’m not one of the goalie coaches, but I can tell you that you look in the weight room and you look at the video and you just watch the way that he handles himself on a daily basis, he’s all business and he wants it,” Capuano said. “He wants it; he wants to win. But he’s just an extremely hard-working kid and he should get rewarded when you work as hard as he does on and off the ice.”
Kulemin gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead with his fifth goal of the season when he received a pass from Okposo in front of the net and took a wrist shot that got past Ullmark. It was Kulemin’s third straight game with a goal.
“That line’s good. That line’s good,” Capuano said. “You know what, [Kulemin] and Nielsen kill penalties together and he does the right things. He’s a smart hockey player, he works extremely hard, he’s in the right spots. When you’ve got two guys that kill penalties together like that and have a little chemistry, it translates to 5-on-5 as well.”
Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly made it 2-1 with a power-play goal with 8:42 left in the third period. O’Reilly received a cross-zone pass from Jack Eichel and took a wrist shot that beat Greiss for his 15th goal.
“Yeah, did a lot of things you want to do in the game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “In particular, the power plays in the first period, the shot volume was there, had good looks, had net-fronts, had pucks lying in the crease. We had a ton of opportunities tonight, we just weren’t able to put them home. I think we just want to keep playing that way.”
O’Reilly’s was the Sabres’ first power-play goal in 25 opportunities over a span of eight games.
“[The power play] was a little bit better than what we’ve seen last games,” O’Reilly said. “Whether it’s traffic or just getting shots, we have to do something to put it in. The 5-on-3, too, we still haven’t scored on one of those. That’s killing us.”
The Sabres have not scored on six 5-on-3 power plays this season.
Nielsen made it 1-0 at 9:35 of the second period with a power-play goal. With Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges off on a holding penalty, Nielsen poked a loose puck in the crease from a Tavares shot past Ullmark.
“I couldn't find it, but I knew it was there somewhere,” Nielsen said. “I don't know how it ended up over by that post. I wasn't really in there trying to push on the goalie. I was just standing there looking for it and luckily it came right out there where I was standing.”
Bylsma challenged the goal saying Ullmark was interfered with prior to the puck going in. After review, the referee confirmed no goaltender interference occurred before the puck crossed the goal line. It was the Islanders’ first power-play goal in 14 chances over six games.
“We could see it from the bench and it was loose,” Capuano said. “You were just hoping somebody was going to put it in and fortunately we caught it at the last minute. … It’s there, and, again, for our sake, to get a power-play goal was big for us because we’ve struggled of late.”
Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk left the game with 4:27 left in the third period. He attempted to body check Eichel but missed him and appeared to go shoulder-first into the boards. Boychuk skated to the locker room but did not return to the game.
“Fortunately for us that Johnny Boychuk came off on his own power and he’s day-to-day, upper-body,” Capuano said. “But it could’ve been a lot worse, his neck or his head, and just thankfully he’s OK.”