UNIONDALE, NY- It might not mean much come the season-opener in October. But for a one-week stretch, the Islanders look closer to a promising young team than a directionless unit in contention for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
The Islanders once again found offense from unlikely sources and good goaltending made it stand up. One day after Sean Bergenheim picked up his first career hat trick, Jeff Tambellini scored his third goal in four games, Josh Bailey scored for the first time in 15 games and Kyle Okposo took another step towards a 20-goal season in his rookie year.
Yann Danis capitalized on the offensive support, making 40 saves and teaming with a penalty kill unit that nullified a pair of two-man power plays and kept the Wayne Gretzky-coached Phoenix Coyotes scoreless on seven power play chances in a 3-2 matinee victory at Nassau Coliseum Sunday.
“Sometimes we make some youthful mistakes but we make up for it with effort,” coach Scott Gordon said. “It’s slowly coming together.”
Danis tied his career high in saves, including 16 in a frantic third period for his second 40-save game in his past six appearances. He has allowed just nine goals in those last six games. Nine different Islanders recorded at least one point, sending the club on a six-game road trip winners of four of its past five games.
The Isles will look to carry its hot play away from Long Island. Gordon’s team is 6-23-2 away from home, though Okposo said the Islanders are improving in all facets. The club has captured points in six of the past eight games after losing seven of its previous eight contests before Feb. 21.
“We’re working so hard to back-pressure, and I think that’s been the big difference in our team over the last month,” Okposo said. “We come back so hard that we don’t give teams a lot off the rush. We’re getting above the puck and not giving up too many odd-man rushes. We’ve just been playing better as a team.”
All three Islanders goals came in a whirlwind second period. Tambellini sent home a rebound in front of the net for his fifth of the season to tie the score at 1 following Scottie Upshall’s opening tally 15:50 into
the first that gave Phoenix it’s only lead. Three of Tambellini’s five goals have come in the past three games.
Bailey put the Isles ahead at the 9:18 mark,
pushing a wrist shot past Ilja Bryzglaov. Okposo followed with a net-finding wrist shot with 36.8 seconds left before second intermission for his 14th goal. At the time, that tally provided an insurance marker that proved to be the game-winner. The Isles are 9-3-3 in the past 13 games at the Coliseum.
“I thought in the second period, we came out and had a lot of jump,” Okposo said. “We were moving our feet and getting above the puck. We carried that over into the third. We didn’t give them too much. They had 41 shots, but we didn’t give up too many quality chances.”
Tim Jackman and Bergenheim gave Phoenix its best chance to get back in the game, taking penalties for hooking and tripping respectively 1:54 into the final period to give the Coyotes its second five-on-three opportunity. Yet Phoenix only recorded two shots during the two-man advantages and the Coyotes only cut it to 3-2 when Shane Doan scored a point-blank goal with 18.6 seconds left after the visitors pulled their goalie.
“We didn’t capitalize on either five-on-three,” Gretzky said. “I believe you should score on every five-on-three situation.”
Danis faced a slew of shots in the final period yet the defense was able to clear out rebounds and prevented many quality chances. Phoenix nearly made it 3-2 with 5:23 to play when Matthew Lombardi’s shot skipped past Danis. Following a video review, the officials ruled the net was knocked off its moorings just before the puck crossed the goal line, disallowing the goal.
“Most of their shots were from the outside and whenever there was a rebound, guys took care of it,” said Danis, who increased his save percentage to .924 in improving to 7-10-2. “They didn’t have any odd-man rushes. We’re playing some smart hockey defensively.”