Back to .500 for Isles as Penalty Kill Comes Up Big in 4-3 Win Over Caps

Andrew Ladd scored twice and got most of the headlines, but a big reason the Islanders were able to defeat the Washington Capitals Tuesday night at the Barclays Center was the strong play of their penalty killing. Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves to earn the 4-3 win. The victory extended the Isles win streak to three games and got the team back the .500 mark for the season at 14-14-6.

The Islanders killed off all four Washington power-play chances in this game including two in the final 5:15 of regulation with the home team clinging to a one-goal lead.

“Back-to-back, late in the third, our penalty killers did a heck of a job to keep the game in check especially against one of the most dangerous power plays in the league,” Ladd said. “Guys were blocking shots and doing the right things. You’re best penalty killer is your goalie. It was two big moments for us.”

The Capitals took the last 10 shots on goal in the game but the penalty killers and Halak came up big.

In fact, during the team’s current win streak, the Isles have killed off all nine power plays. This has been accomplished despite the fact that they have been without center Casey Cizikas, one of the team’s top penalty killers.

Coach Jack Capuano has turned to captain John Tavares to bolster the penalty kill and it has paid off. Tavares was on the ice for 4:11 of shorthanded time against Washington and was a big part of the team’s success when the game was on the line.

“It’s just attention to detail, and understanding what we’re doing as a penalty kill” Tavares said when asked what the keys are to successfully killing off penalties. “The four guys, obviously including our goaltender, have to be predictable for one another. Obviously knowing the habits and tendencies of the other teams and just trying to be aggressive when you can and don’t try to give any easy opportunities. What we do give up should be predictable for our goalies so they can be square and make the save.”

The Islanders did that effectively against Washington, limiting the Capitals to just four shots on goal in their four opportunities with the extra attacker. Most of those chances were plays Halak could clearly see and stop.

The captain also acknowledged the importance of killing penalties for the team’s overall success. “Special teams is a key and it’s hurt us at some points early in the season,” Tavares admitted. “The penalty kill has been coming along as the year has gone on and obviously we need it to be a strong point especially in games like these when you need to kill a couple late.”

The penalty kill was a strength for the Islanders last season when it finished fourth in the league. This season was a struggle early but the unit finally seems to be rounding back into form.

“It’s a huge part of the team,” veteran penalty killer Cal Clutterbuck said. “We haven’t been as good as we want to be but we’ve got some new faces on there. It’s a unique and very instinctive way to kill penalties and once they really figure out how to do it and what their way of doing it is then we’ll get back to where we were. I think we’ve been pretty good lately.”

Jack Capuano was also pleased with his team’s PK, especially late in the game. “It’s about making sure guys do everything they can and sacrifice their bodies. Your goalie is your best penalty killer and I think he [Halak] made some big saves…It’s about attention to detail. The details are there.”

When you add Ladd finally starting to contribute offensively and the consistent production of Anders Lee, you have several big reasons why the Islanders are winning hockey games.

The Islanders will need the penalty kill to continue to thrive as they hit the road for seven of their next eight games including a trip to red-hot Minnesota Thursday night. If the PK stays strong, the Isles have a chance of winning more hockey games and getting back into the playoff chase in the ultra competitive Metropolitan Division

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