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New York Islanders 5 (EN), Winnipeg Jets 2: Nielsen, Strome, Lee close 2014 with fireworks

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It was no more significant than any other game, but somehow it feels right to end 2014 on this note.

"Today I didn't even have to use my J.T. / Aww hell yeah, I'd say it was good year." -Ice Cube
"Today I didn't even have to use my J.T. / Aww hell yeah, I'd say it was good year." -Ice Cube
Shawn Coates-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders closed out 2014 with a convincing win that is hopefully a harbinger of more to come, and the key players were a big reason for their success thus far in 2014-15.

Ryan Strome had a career-high four points and helped get Frans Nielsen back into a scoring groove (two goals), while Anders Lee -- the third part of that line -- scored his ninth goal of the season on the way to a 5-2 win over an injury-depleted Winnipeg Jets team.

Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd scored both Jets goals, cutting Islanders two-goal leads in half in the second and third periods, but each time the Isles answered to create more room until Josh Bailey finished the scoring with an empty netter with the Isles on the power play in the final minute.

[ Box | Game Sum | Event Sum | Fancy/Shifts: War-on-Ice - Natural Stat Trick - HockeyStats.ca | Recaps: | Isles | NHL |

Game Highlights

That Second Line

For the last two games, the former "Kid Line" has looked good despite losing one of its kids. The "reverend" Brock Nelson was swapped out for the center Nelson may one day be, Nielsen. They made lots of magic together at even strength and benefited from a Johnny Boychuk broken stick on the power play goal that gave the Isles a 2-0 first-period lead.

Coach Jack Capuano had praised Strome's game recently, and he did so again after tonight's performance. First, before tonight's game, referring to Monday's OT win over Washington:

"That was one of his better games," Capuano said. "He’s got to be engaged, continue to stay on the body. If you want to be an elite player in this league, the skilled players do that. I’m starting to see more and more of that out of Ryan Strome."

And then after tonight's performance -- Strome's goal and three assists factoring into each non-empty-net goal -- Capuano mentioned the importance of that line providing the secondary scoring the Islanders have received virtually throughout the first half of 2014-15:

"The [past] couple of games, [the line] has been good for us," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "You have to get secondary scoring, obviously. For me tonight, that line was good. When we play on the road, they're going to get the matchups that they want against [the John] Tavares line. You're going to need other guys to step up."

More from coach and player in that nhl.com dispatch by Patrick Williams:

"I just wanted to fit in," Strome said. "In the beginning, I think I had trouble finding my spot in training camp. The coaches threw me a bone, and I was lucky enough to stick around and take the ball and run with it. I think we have such a talented group that I just try to contribute wherever I can.

"I’m still a young guy just trying to get established and get better."

[...]

"Everyone can play with the puck, but [Strome's] game without the puck has picked up," the coach said. "He had to get to the interior. He had to get to those tough, greasy areas if he wanted to perform, because a lot of his points [with Bridgeport] were outside of those greasy areas."

Here more from these characters, as well as Halak, in the post-game audio.

It's fair to say Strome is earning the trust of the coaching staff and continuing to produce results, grease or no grease.

New Year's Resolutions

Continuing the theme of those who have gotten them to 25-11-1:

  • Once again, Jaroslav Halak didn't face a ton of shots among his 21 saves, but he was steady more often than not when things got hairy.
  • Boychuk and Nick Leddy led what continues to be an enviable top six defensemen corps.
  • While Strome's secondary assist on Nielsen's first goal was of little direct impact, the chemistry they showed on their give-and-go for Nielsen's second was impressive. I'll pay for the sequel to that one.
  • The special teams...continued to not be a major factor in Islanders success. Though they converted two of seven PP opportunities, one was Bailey's empty netter. Meanwhile, both of Ladd's goals were essentially power play goals, though the first one came just after a power play with lots of Jets pressure expired.
2014, What A Year

The win helps the Isles keep pace with the Penguins for 51 points and first place in the Metro. The Isles have two fewer regulation/OT wins.

How significant is this? Eric Hornick has all kinds of factoids in his Skinny, wrap, among them:

  • The Isles are a season-high 14 games over NHL-.500, for the first time since the end of 2001-02. "No Islander team in the Post-Cup era has ever been 15 games over NHL-.500 at any point."
  • The Isles finish 2014 having collected 97 points -- the most since 1983.
  • The Isles end the calendar year with a share of first place for the first time in 27 years, when the Isles and Flyers finished 1987 with 41 points, followed by 40 points for New Jersey, the team that made the playoffs for the first time ever that season before ousting the Isles.

If those facts, the other notes from Hornick, and the general direction of things haven't drilled the point home: It may not have started that way, but 2014 has been a very special, pivotal year in Islanders history.

The young kids who looked so good after John Tavares' injury at the Olympics have only continued to progress. The goaltending has been addressed in a big way with Halak. The defense is as deep as it's been since at least the 2001-02 rebirth.

Oh, and the team is pushing play, controlling play more often than not, and scoring an entertaining three goals per game in the process, good for fourth-most in the league.

Happy, happy, happy New Year, Islanders fans. Thanks for visiting, humoring, and chiming in at Lighthouse Hockey.

P.S. He didn't score tonight, but as this Winnipeg kid can attest, John Tavares is all kinds of awesome.