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Zajac's goal lifts Devils past Islanders

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders have found lots of different ways to lose this season. The loss they suffered Saturday night was painful for them and the opposition.

Locked in a 1-1 tie with the New Jersey Devils in the third period, Marek Zidlicky ripped a slap shot that hit Travis Zajac in the upper left shoulder and went past Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov with 6:57 left in regulation to lift New Jersey to a 2-1 victory at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Zajac's seventh goal of the season proved to the game-winner and Cory Schneider made 30 saves for the Devils (16-16-8), who have earned points in six of their past seven games. Adam Henrique also scored for New Jersey.

Zajac went down to the ice in such a manner that it seemed Zidlicky's shot had hit him in the face. He stayed on the ice momentarily before heading to the Devils' bench in pain.

"I'm fine now that we got the two points," Zajac said. "Top of the shoulder, just a little stinger. I might have been a little overdramatic there, but a couple of minutes later it felt all right."

The Islanders (11-21-7) couldn't generate much offense without captain John Tavares, who was out due to a lower-body injury. Tavares, who leads New York with 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 38 games, had played in 246 consecutive games dating back to October 2010. It was the fifth-longest such streak in franchise history.

It didn't take long to realize how much the Islanders missed their captain. New York didn't get a consistent forecheck going in the offensive zone until the third period, and Brock Nelson and Frans Nielsen took turns centering the top line with Thomas Vanek and Kyle Okposo.

"I think the guys worked hard. That's a pretty good hockey club over there," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "They're a big team, they're a veteran team. We've got a young club in there. We did some good things, we made some mistakes. We've just got to find a way to be a little bit better and productive on the power play as well."

Nielsen scored for the Islanders; Nabokov stopped 23 of 25 shots in the loss, New York's eighth in a row at the Coliseum (0-4-4). Now 11 points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders will visit the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.

"They're a very patient team, they're a good hockey team," Okposo said of the Devils. "They're very structured and they got a lucky bounce there at the end. Otherwise, it's a 1-1 game."

Henrique gave the Devils a 1-0 lead 11:47 into the opening period, finishing off a pretty passing display with Michael Ryder and Reid Boucher. Ryder had the puck along the right-wing boards and chipped it through Andrew MacDonald's legs up to Boucher, who sped past Calvin de Haan and sent it to the slot to Henrique for an easy backhand past Nabokov. It was Henrique's eighth goal of the season.

"It was a good play," Henrique said. "I knew there was some open ice. The defenseman went to Boosh, so he made a great pass over. I was in tight, so I tried to get it upstairs quick."

Schneider preserved the lead with 2:42 left in the second period. With the Islanders finally starting to establish a forecheck in the offensive zone, Brian Strait collected a loose puck between the circles and snapped a wrist shot that Schneider managed to gobble up without a rebound.

Nabokov prevented New Jersey from doubling its lead about 20 seconds later when he denied Steve Bernier's wrist shot from point-blank range. The Devils were outshot 8-6 in the second period.

"I'd love to get him a two-goal cushion one of these nights," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said of Schneider, who won for the fifth time in 18 games this season despite a 2.13 goals-against average. "I think he's played well all year. His record doesn't reflect that, but the guys have a lot of confidence in him."

The Islanders controlled the tempo for much of the third period and finally tied the game on Nielsen's 13th of the season with 9:29 remaining. Vanek intercepted Bryce Salvador's clearing attempt along the right-wing boards and poked it to Okposo, who managed to send it along to Nielsen while falling down. Nielsen gathered Okposo's pass and fired a wrist shot from the slot past Schneider to make it 1-1.

"It always is [disappointing] when you lose," Nielsen said. "I think actually we played a pretty solid game out there. I'm just disappointed that once we scored the goal that we just let them back in and we kind of sit back again. It's almost like we're satisfied with the one point and we've gotta keep going. We've got to go for the two points. That's what I'm most disappointed about."

But the Islanders didn't even get one point. For the eighth time in 20 home games this season, they came away empty-handed.

"All this, 'Well, we play well, but we can't catch a break,' but we have to find a way to catch a break," Nabokov said. "That's what the good teams do. We need points right now, that's the bottom line.

"Did we play well? I think we did. But it wasn't enough."

New Jersey returns to action Tuesday night, when it will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center.

"We need wins no matter how they look right now," DeBoer said. "I thought [the Islanders] played a real hard game. They gave us everything we could handle."

Salvador, New Jersey's captain, returned to the lineup for the first time since sustaining a foot injury on Oct. 22, a span of 30 games. The 37-year-old defenseman replaced Anton Volchenkov in the lineup. The Devils announced prior to the game that Volchenkov has total body soreness.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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