And so the pesky Islanders have pulled even with the Washington Capitals atop the East Division following their 1-0 victory over the Capitals on Tuesday. Each team sports a 25-10-4 mark for 54 points. You can’t get much closer than that.
Of course, we’re splitting hairs here, because it means nothing in the standings, but the Islanders have a +28 goal differential, which is the best in the division. The Capitals have a +14 goal differential.
“Our attitude was good,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. “We stayed to our game, followed through, went the distance on all the plays.”
As the Islanders await Monday’s trade deadline, with scoring help the No. 1 priority with the season-ending injury to Anders Lee, the club has rammed home the point that it can win with defense or in a shootout.
Stick salutes to the best fans in hockey! pic.twitter.com/Y10Zp5bKuW
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 7, 2021
Nelson now leads the club in goals with 14. The Islanders outshot the Capitals 20-10 in the third period. Of course, the Islanders could have had more goals. They hit two posts and two crossbars in the first two periods.
It had to be the best third period the Islanders have played all season. Overall, the Islanders had 20 high-danger scoring chances to only 10 for Washington, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“Every game is going to be tough the rest of the way in,” Nelson said. “Our division is tight. All the points matter. You need to find different ways to win.”
Different Ways To Win
The Islanders look like they’ve figured out how to play the Capitals. They can play a conservative game and win a tight game, like they did on Tuesday, or open it up, as they did in routing Washington 8-4 in New York a week ago.
Overall, the Islanders pumped 39 shots on the Washington goal. This was a good confidence builder for Trotz’s club because the Capitals have dominated the series for the most part, winning the first three games of the head-to-head matchups. The Caps still lead the series 3-2, with three more games to come.
It’s not often you can make Alex Ovechkin disappear off the scoresheet. He was held to only two shots on goal. Nicklas Backstrom had one shot on goal and so did T.J. Oshie.
“It was tight. Not a lot of room,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said.
🤩 Another look at Brock's GWG! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/xs9tomDQ2r
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 7, 2021
It’s been somewhat of a tough season for Nelson. But he sure likes playing Washington. He has scored two goals in two games against the Capitals.
In March, Nelson endured a long slump, going seven games without a goal. And only once this season has he tallied more than one goal, and that two-goal performance came against the lowly Buffalo Sabres on March 7.
Buffalo has been his favorite team to play against. In six games, 29-year-old Nelson has scored four goals against the Sabres.
But home brings out the best in the 2010 first-round draft pick. Nelson has scored nine goals at home in 19 games, and he’s great when the Islanders are going great. Nelson has 11 goals in wins and three in losses.
On the season, Nelson has 14 goals and 23 points. Mathew Barzal remains at the top, followed by Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy. But Nelson seems to be gaining more confidence. Last year, he scored 26 goals in 68 games and added 28 assists for a 54-point total that proved hard to live up in the early going of this season.
After playing in the minors, Nelson made his NHL debut in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 6 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He earned a spot on the roster in 2013-14 and scored his first NHL goal against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 22. He finished his rookie campaign with 14 goals and 26 points in 72 games.
Now in his eighth season and playing on a line with Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier, Nelson led the Islanders in goals in the 2019-20 season with 26 and the post-season (with nine). Last season Nelson took and won more faceoffs on the Islanders and finished above 50% in the dot for the first time in his career. His faceoff win percentage remains around the 50% mark. And his 164 goals now rank No. 15 on the Islanders’ all-time list.
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Ice Time Up
Over the course of the season, Nelson has been getting more ice time. In a few recent games, he’s getting 20 minutes or more. On Tuesday, he saw 17:42, which was second to Barzal among forwards.
And with more ice time, he’s getting more shots off. On March 14, against the New Jersey Devils, Nelson had a season-high six shots on goal and tallied once. And against Washington on April 1, Nelson threw five shots at the cage.
But there have been too many games, numbering around 20, when Nelson has been held to two or fewer shots on goal, and it’s sometimes hard to generate shots when your system is so defensive-oriented.
But Nelson’s shooting and his shooting percentage have been ticking up. He ranks No. 3 in shots on goal on the club and his shooting percentage is now above average at over 16%. His career average is 13%.
In the first month of the season, Nelson’s shots weren’t going in and his shooting percentage dropped to 8.3% after the first 13 games. The next 16 games, from mid-February to mid-March, is when Nelson started to find his mark and his shooting percentage leaped to 22.5%. And in the last month, over the last 16 games, his shooting percentage has hovered around 20%.
Nelson is valued because of his durability as well. Along with Barzal and Ryan Pulock, Nelson is one of only three Islander players with active consecutive games played streaks of at least 200 games. They have appeared in every game since Trotz became coach in 2018-19.
With Barzal and Eberle running hot, the importance of Nelson centering the second line cannot be understated. Nelson is again becoming the player the Islanders need him to be to take the pressure off the No. 1 line.