Islanders beat Flyers, reclaim first place in Eastern Conference
No one expected the New York Islanders to head into their All-Star break on top of the Eastern Conference — not even coach Jack Capuano.
He knows his club has played surprisingly well, though he claims he doesn’t know just how well.
That’s OK. He likes what he sees, and he wants it to continue when the Islanders get back on the ice next week.
"I don’t even know our record," Capuano said after New York’s 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. "We come to the rink and we get better every day. I know we’ve won some games and things are going well for our team right now, but we can’t lose sight of how we need to play."
Nikolay Kulemin had two goals and an assist, and the Islanders reclaimed first place in the East with their latest divisional win. New York is assured of being on top of the Metropolitan when play resumes next week.
The Islanders, 15-2 against divisional foes, are off until they host the New York Rangers next Tuesday. New York is 16-4 overall at home.
"The thing about our hockey team is believablility and trust. Accountability and leadership," Capuano said. "No one gave us a chance, and that is why you play the game. I am very pleased up until this point with our hockey club. We’ve done a lot of good things, not only winning hockey games but how we’re winning games and how we’re playing within the structure and the framework."
Michael Grabner, John Tavares, and Nick Leddy each had a goal and an assist.
Grabner gave the Islanders the lead on their first shot, and Kulemin made it 3-0 with a short-handed tally on New York’s first shot of the second period. Kulemin also scored in between, and Josh Bailey and Tavares found the net in the Islanders’ three-goal middle period.
Leddy restored the Islanders’ three-goal lead 5:45 into the third.
All-Star Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves for his 25th win this season. The Islanders (31-14-1), who have won five of six, lead Tampa Bay by one point in the East. New York bounced back from a lackluster 6-4 loss at Montreal on Saturday with its second game in three outings of at least six goals.
"We wanted to have a bounce-back game and go into the break on a high," Bailey said. "It will be a much-deserved break, but we’re going to want to pick up where we left off."
Last season’s team went only 13-19-9 at home and missed the playoffs after making it the year before.
"It’s no secret it was a big disappointment last year and one of the reasons why we didn’t have much success," Tavares said.
Defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto had goals for Philadelphia in the second period, Claude Giroux made it 5-3 in the first minute of the third, and Chris VandeVelde brought the Flyers within 6-4 with 2:24 left.
It wasn’t enough to help Rob Zepp, who made his fifth straight start but was yanked in the second period in favor of Ray Emery after allowing four goals on 20 shots. Philadelphia (18-22-7) has lost four of six overall and seven of eight on the road.
"Our record doesn’t show we’re a good team," Giroux said. "We can be a good team, too, if we start playing the way we can play."
Anders Lee added an empty-net goal for New York, which had 41 shots.
Grabner got New York going after taking a pass in the neutral zone from Kulemin. Grabner streaked down left wing, got around diving defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and snapped a shot under the crossbar to make it 1-0 just 1:32 in on his fourth goal.
Grabner and Kulemin hooked up again — with defenseman Johnny Boychuk in the middle — to double the lead 6:32 later.
The Flyers found their legs in the second half of the period and ended up with a 14-9 edge in shots in the frame. Their best scoring chance, however, came in the opening minute when a slick 3-on-2 produced a good shot by Wayne Simmonds that Halak corralled.
Grabner nearly had another assist during Philadelphia’s first power play, but Casey Cizikas’ breakaway was stopped by the back of Zepp’s left leg with 4 minutes left in the opening period.
Streit, a former Islanders captain, closed the Flyers to 3-1 with a power-play goal at 9:07 of the second, but Bailey made it 4-1 at 11:49. After Del Zotto cut the deficit back to two at 15:12, Tavares extended the lead to three with 7.6 seconds remaining in the second.
"I don’t think as a team we played good defensive hockey," Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. "It’s hard for us to get on a winning streak."
NOTES: Islanders RW Kyle Okposo was chosen as the NHL’s third star of the week. … Colaiacovo was helped off the ice after being injured in the third period. He is doubtful for Tuesday’s home game against Pittsburgh. … The Islanders won both home games against the Flyers this season.