After a 4-3 win home win over Montreal on Thursday, the Islanders finally had a result they could feel good about.
They nearly blew the two-goal lead they brought into the third period by taking two penalties in the game’s final 10 minutes. But when a team gets just its second win in 12 games and first since Nov. 5, the two points are what counts.
Starting the 2011-12 season by winning three of their first four games — all at home — the Islanders gave their fans a dose of optimism. That changed over the past month as the team plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, dropping to the second-worst record in the NHL after Columbus.
Before Thursday, the Islanders blew a three-goal lead in a 4-3 overtime loss at Colorado and followed that with a no-show performance Sunday in Vancouver. In that 4-1 loss, coach Jack Capuano called out some of his players without mentioning names.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but I wouldn’t say it’s the end-all,” goaltender Rick DiPietro said after making 24 saves in the win over a Montreal Canadiens team that beat visiting Carolina the night before.
Like his teammates, DiPietro was optimistic that the Islanders’ early season struggles would not snowball into anything like last year’s 1-16-3 stretch that put the team out of contention by mid-December.
“This team isn’t going to settle for mediocrity,” he said. “It’s not going to be happy just winning one game then losing a couple more.”
DiPietro entered Thursday’s game to boos from a sparse crowd after starter Evgeni Nabokov left eight minutes into the first period with a groin injury; the team announced Friday that Nabokov was out indefinitely. But the boos turned into “Dee-Pee” chants in the game’s final minutes as he preserved the Islanders’ one-goal lead. Those fans might be seeing a lot of DiPietro in the next few weeks, depending on the severity of Nabokov’s injury.
“We need to a play with some desperation, we need to play with some urgency,” DiPietro said. “It’s the middle of November now. There’s no time for excuses.”
Captain Mark Streit agreed the Islanders are better when they force the issue, citing the first two periods of Thursday’s game.
“We’ve got to keep playing the same we did the first 40 minutes," he said. "We’re a pretty good team. We have good offensive players, we have a good forecheck. We got a little too passive in the last 10 minutes, I thought, and they came close.
“Today was a big relief, obviously.”
Three of the team’s next four games are at home, including Boston’s visit Saturday. Those games will go a long way in determining how temporary that relief is.
Atlantic Division notes
The Rangers’ 4-2 win on Long Island on Tuesday night was the team’s seventh consecutive victory. If they win Saturday at Montreal, the Rangers will match their longest winning streak since 1974-75. . . . Rangers D Marc Staal has been cleared for “light physical activity” by doctors. He has been out since the beginning of the season with concussion symptoms. There is no timetable for his return. . . . Penguins C Sidney Crosby does not have a target date for his return, either. He has been out since January with concussion symptoms. . . . Only two Devils defensemen have scored goals through the team’s first 17 games. Mark Fayne has three and rookie Adam Larsson one. . . . The Devils lead the NHL in penalty killing with a 92.1 percentage. . . . F Jay Pandolfo scored his first goal as an Islander in the team’s win over Montreal. It was the 100th career goal of his 14-year career. Kyle Okposo was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. He has just three assists and is minus-7 in 14 games. The Islanders unveiled new third jerseys earlier this week. . . . Flyers G Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 30 of 31 shots in his first game against his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes, in a 2-1 win. Philadelphia has a point in eight straight games (6-0-2) since its wild 9-8 loss to Winnipeg. Jaromir Jagr left the game with a lower-body injury and will miss Saturday’s game in Winnipeg. He last missed a game during the 2003-04 season.