LOS ANGELES — The New York Islanders bring a surprising surge of momentum into a Wednesday game against the red-hot Los Angeles Kings.
New York (6-8-4) broke a four-game losing streak by winning a franchise-record, 14-round shootout and emerging with a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. The road victory was the first of the season for the Islanders, who are 1-4-1 overall away from Barclays Center during an early-season schedule heavily weighted toward home contests.
Thomas Griess was the key to victory, stopping 39 shots through regulation and overtime then 10 more in the shootout for his first victory since Oct. 30 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nick Leddy became the first defenseman in Islanders history to score a game-winning shootout goal but deferred credit to his goaltender for earning the two points.
“I was a little nervous,” Leddy said of his shootout chance. “Johnny Boychuk and I were talking saying there was a good chance we were gonna go in the shootout, but Thomas came up huge for us in the net.”
Griess said, “It's great to get the win. That's the most important part. It's big and great for the morale of the team.”
The Islanders may have to play Wednesday without Cal Clutterbuck, who left the Tuesday game with an upper-body injury after taking a hit from Anaheim's Josh Manson. He did not return, and it was presumed he was being evaluated for a possible concussion.
Despite the win, New York remains last in the Eastern Conference and is tied with Arizona for the least amount of regulation wins in the NHL (five). Coming off a 102-point regular season and a playoff series win against the Florida Panthers, expectations were high as the season started. The slow start has fueled speculation about the status of Jack Capuano, but general manager Garth Snow gave the embattled coach a vote of confidence last week.
While the lone win won't quiet the speculation, it gives the Islanders a foothold in the hopes of turning their season around. Standing in their way is a Kings team that has battled through injury adversity to regain the form that will be needed to contend for the Pacific Division title.
The Kings' 10-9-1 record was fashioned by both winning and losing streaks. At present, Los Angeles is on a four-game winning streak after defeating the Ducks 3-2 Sunday. The winning streak is more impressive considering it comes at the conclusion of an eight-games-in-13-days segment of the schedule and accomplished without the presence of Anze Kopitar, the Kings' top center and leading scorer for the past eight seasons.
In his absence, Jeff Carter stepped up, recording four goals and two assists to earn the NHL First Star for the week ending Sunday. Overall, Carter leads the team with nine goals and 17 points in 20 games, including his 600th career point in the Anaheim victory.
“You lose a guy like Kopitar, everybody has to step up,” Carter said after the Sunday win. “One guy's not going to fill his spot. Guys have done a good job.”
Kopitar is close to returning after missing six games with a wrist injury sustained in a 2-1 loss at Ottawa on Nov. 11. Although he skated with the extra players Tuesday, a source said he will attempt to return against the Islanders. The Kings trail the division-leading Edmonton Oilers by two points entering the contest.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter was forced to rely on rookies through the team's first 20 games. An injury to top-four defenseman Brayden McNabb caused Derek Forbort to be promoted to the top defensive pairing and led to the recall of Kevin Gravel. Forbort and Gravel struggled on Los Angeles' last road trip but stabilized their play during the winning streak.
“They're probably not going to be in the lineup if we're fully healthy,” Sutter admitted.