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[Recap] New York Islanders 1, Arizona Coyotes 0: Long trip ends on a Frans note

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The Isles outplayed the Coyotes and avoided extra time with a late winner from Frans Nielsen in Jaroslav Halak's first shutout.

He Who can feel, need not see.
He Who can feel, need not see.
USA TODAY Sports

Frans Nielsen scored from the high slot on a Mikhail Grabovski setup with 2:31 left in the game to give the New York Islanders a deserved 1-0 win and Jaroslav Halak his first shutout with the team. The result completed a turnaround on the now-finished five-game road trip, and the 19 shots allowed -- just eight at even strength -- reflected a refreshing new commitment to full-team defense.

The term "narrative" is seen with raised eyebrow by many following hockey because it is easy to confuse the psychological impact of events with the explanation of why they happened. The bounces and the shootouts and the tough breaks that impact results can be obscured by the cold judgment of "win" or "loss."

The psychology around the Islanders -- except within the team, it seems -- after they lost the second game of this trip, in San Jose (and third in a row overall), was one of dread: A tough back-to-back in Los Angeles and Anaheim loomed, with a "trap" game at the end in Arizona. I heard "they'll be lucky to win a game" a lot.

The explanation of what happened is this: After mistakes spiraled into a blowout in Denver, the Isles displayed a renewed commitment to team defense in San Jose that they continued against the Ducks and Kings. Those games could have gone either way (as could the loss to the Sharks, honestly) but getting points from them at least felt deserved, and due.

To top it off, Saturday night in Glendale was a thorough display with absolutely just reward. Mike Smith kept it close at even strength, while Halak helped keep the Isles from being burned by any of the Coyotes' five power plays. But the Isles, missing Johnny Boychuk (out with a knee injury after that knee-on-knee by Kyle Clifford), kept the pressure on all night and were finally rewarded in the 57th minute.

The result: they head home at 9-5 and 18 points after 14 games, with a chance for revenge against the Avalanche at home.

[ Box | Game Sum | Event Sum | Fancy/Shifts: War-on-Ice - Natural Stat Trick - HockeyStats.ca | Recaps: | Isles | NHL | Newsday | Five for Howling | LHH +/- thread]

Game Highlights

Game Notes

Penalty Kill: Complete players often make the best penalty killers. The Isles top PK forwards tonight by TOI were Nikolay Kulemin (4:19), Ryan Strome (4:18), Brock Nelson (3:49), Frans Nielsen (2:52) and Cal Clutterbuck (2:13). The crew allowed nine shots to hit Halak in nearly 10 minutes of PK time. Renewed aggressiveness here too appears to be part of the approach. Strome and Clutterbuck each had partial shorthanded breakaways.

Meanwhile, Brian Strait was back in the lineup -- a late injury replacement for Johnny Boychuk -- but he had two of the five penalties. So Thomas Hickey (4:24), Travis Hamonic (5:13) and Calvin de Haan (5:24) logged far more PK time than Strait (2:49).

Line Mixing: With the presence of Eric Boulton (6:21), the Isles did a fair amount of spot line mixes. After Nikolay Kulemin and Strome had a long penalty kill shift, Matt Martin (8:33) took a shift with the top line, coincidentally after the Coyotes were trying to cling to Tavares. Cal Clutterbuck appeared there later too, again after Strome and Kulemin had just killed a penalty.

Anders Lee, who otherwise played on the "Kid Line" with Strome and Brock Nelson, was with Frans Nielsen on the winning goal. Strome (who was pronounced "Strahm" by the Coyotes announcers at least once all night) had another shift between Boulton and Martin.

Islanders Are Everywhere: Islanders fans on the road and in the diaspora have been evident throughout this road trip, making themselves heard at each stop. But the shouting din throughout the building was most noticeable after Nielsen's winner. Good job, gang.

Strait's Last Penalty: Yeah, Strait's stick was at Shane Doan's feet, but I can't help thinking Doan baited and then sold that one. The "warrior" Doan went down easily, both feet elevating; I suspect he was looking for a trip, and he got it.

The Breaks of the Winner: Boy, Nielsen sure looked open for a while there in the high slot on the game-winner, didn't he? Apparently his check, Brandon McMillan, was caught up on the bench during a line change, so he was fatally late in getting to Nielsen. It was a good retrieval from Mikhail Grabovski behind the net, taking it around the boards until he could find Nielsen. And a hard, rising shot from Nielsen that handcuffed Mike Smith.

Goalie Battle: With Smith making 32 saves and Halak needing only 19, it could be easy to overlook Halak's night. But he did the old "made saves when you need them," spread throughout the night, despite long spells without pressure, interrupted by five Coyotes power plays.

Jiggs Effect: Updating Eric Hornick's stat from the other night, the Isles are now 13-1-3 in the last 17 games where Jiggs McDonald has filled in for Howie Rose.

Omniscient Frans

Who needs to see? Frans on the winner:

"It was a perfect pass, right on my tape. I closed my eyes and just shot it as hard as I could."

Wax on, wax off.

The Captain and the Goalie on the Defense

Via the official site:

"Tonight it’s great to get a win, especially a shutout, but the guys made it easier for me," Halak said. "They blocked shots, skated hard and the penalty kill did a great job."

"We’ve been much better defensively," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "I think that’s most important, even if they are just trying to clog things up and make things tough, we just need to stick with it and eventually get something going your way [offensively]."

More from Halak:

"Guys did a really good job, especially with their sticks there at the end," Halak said. "A couple of passes could have gotten through, but guys had sticks in the lanes and they were ready. We were skating hard, blocking shots and we played a really good game for 60 minutes.

"Our penalty kill has been much better and more patient for a few games now. That's a big key in hockey now; it can change a game and it made a difference tonight."

Takeaway

The Islanders were rested and confident after getting four points from the L.A./Anaheim swing, while the Coyotes flew home in the wee hours the night before. After the Isles controlled long stretches without beating Smith, frustration could've gotten the best of them. It didn't, and they got the key goal.

We'll see how this all applies -- if at all -- in the coming weeks. But it sure feels like this road trip was one of those good, learning adventures with adversity.