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Strome's four points lead Islanders past Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The New York Islanders are very comfortable on the road, a place where they will be spending much of January.

The Islanders began a season-high seven-game road trip with a 5-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Wednesday, and are 28-12-3 on the road in their past 43 road games, including 11-7-1 this season.

New York’s 25 wins lead the Eastern Conference and tie them with the Chicago Blackhawks for the most in the NHL. With 51 points, the Islanders (25-11-1) are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division and are one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders' recently assembled line of Anders Lee, Frans Nielsen and Ryan Strome tormented the Jets, combining for nine points. Strome had a goal and three assists; Nielsen scored two goals and had an assist; and Lee had a goal and an assist.

"The [past] couple of games, [the line] has been good for us," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You have to get secondary scoring, obviously. For me tonight, that line was good. When we play on the road, they're going to get the matchups that they want against [the John] Tavares line. You're going to need other guys to step up."

Islanders forward Josh Bailey scored an empty-net goal.

Strome's four points are a career-high for the 21-year-old, the fifth pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. He has a goal and five assists in his past two games.

Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak made his second consecutive start after missing two games with a lower-body injury and made 21 saves.

"I thought we played a really good game tonight," Capuano said. "Overall, our goalie was great, our 5-on-5 play was good, our [power play] was good."

The Islanders, who visit the Calgary Flames on Friday, do not play at Nassau Coliseum until Jan. 19. After losing two straight games on the road Dec. 9 and 11, the Islanders have a point in their past three road games (2-0-1), and their 11 road wins are tied for second in the League.

"We play a loose, confident game on the road, not that we [don’t] at home," Lee said. "It’s just you. You're against the crowd and against the home team. You just kind of grind it out together and play a simple game."

Andrew Ladd scored two goals for the Jets (19-12-7), who have lost their first two games of a four-game homestand. Ladd scored two goals against the Islanders in the Jets' 4-3 win at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 28.

Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 28 saves in his first start since Dec. 21 after three starts in a row for rookie Michael Hutchinson. Pavelec has allowed 12 goals in his past four games.

The Jets lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Nov. 20 and 23. Winnipeg has been near the League lead in goals-against for most of the first half of the season, but the Jets have allowed 11 goals in their past three games.

"I'm not concerned that they’re straying away from [the system]," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "It's the confidence in which they do things. It’s the amount of time you leave on the ice for the other team to make plays. [The Islanders] played pretty darn good game. They were quick on the puck. They move the puck well, and they’re deep with four lines.

"We're not straying from our game plan. I'm not worried about that. What happens is you worry about the confidence with which you employ [the system]."

After Strome's seventh goal gave New York a 1-0 lead 10:04 into the game, Nielsen's seventh goal made it 2-0 on the power play.

Consecutive penalties to Winnipeg defensemen Jay Harrison and Dustin Byfuglien set up a 30-second 5-on-3 power play for New York late in the first period. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk's broken-stick right-point shot sent the puck trickling to Nielsen, who tapped it in before Pavelec could scramble into position at 18:16.

The Islanders power play broke a 1-for-23 slump Monday in a 4-3 overtime win against the Washington Capitals with two goals on seven chances, and was 2-for-7 against Winnipeg.

The Jets cut the lead to 2-1 at 4:41 in the second period when Ladd finished a give-and-go play with Blake Wheeler for his 13th goal.

Nielsen reclaimed the Islanders' two-goal lead when he finished a 2-on-1 rush for his eighth goal at 15:27.

Ladd's second goal of the game 47 seconds into the third period on the power play made it 3-2.

Third periods have been a problem recently for the Islanders, who allowed a three-goal third period in each of their past two games, but Halak and his teammates were able to shut down a Jets comeback.

"I think our best period was the third period," Halak said. "We had been having a little bit of trouble lately in the third period, but tonight I thought our guys did a great job. They didn't give [Winnipeg] anything. We didn't crack. We stayed with our system. We kept playing our way."

Lee's ninth goal with 11:35 left in the third gave the Islanders a 4-2 lead, their third two-goal lead of the game. The 24-year-old, a sixth-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, has 19 goals in his first 55 games.

Strome is in his second professional season and is tied with center Brock Nelson for third on the Islanders in scoring with 27 points. Strome split last season between the Islanders and Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, playing 37 games in the NHL before making the Islanders out of training camp this season.

"I just wanted to fit in," Strome said. "In the beginning, I think I had trouble finding my spot in training camp. The coaches threw me a bone, and I was lucky enough to stick around and take the ball and run with it. I think we have such a talented group that I just try to contribute wherever I can.

"I’m still a young guy just trying to get established and get better."

Capuano has noticed Strome's growth.

"Everyone can play with the puck, but [Strome's] game without the puck has picked up," the coach said. "He had to get to the interior. He had to get to those tough, greasy areas if he wanted to perform, because a lot of his points [with Bridgeport] were outside of those greasy areas."

The Jets host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. After this homestand, the Jets play five of six games on the road.

"There are some mistakes that we need to clear out of our game and get a little sharper at," Ladd said. "We'll take [Thursday] off and come back ready to work and fix those things."

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