DiPietro stopped 28 shots for his third consecutive shutout at home, and the Islanders got goals from Arron Asham and Jason Blake in a 2-0 victory over the slumping New York Rangers on Tuesday night. “Ricky’s been the key for our success,” Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt said. “He’s been great in stopping the first shot, then we’ve been able to clear out just about all the rebounds.”
DiPietro extended his home shutout streak to 185:43 in his 10th career shutout and fourth this season. The last goal he allowed at Nassau Coliseum came with 43 seconds left in regulation of a 2-1 shootout win against Florida on Dec. 9.
Asked about his streak, DiPietro simply knocked on his wooden locker stall.
The Islanders moved one point ahead of the Rangers, just behind the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils. The Islanders also have three games in hand on the Rangers, who have lost six straight overall following a five-game winning streak.
The Islanders improved to 3-0 against their crosstown rivals this month. The last time they won three consecutive regular-season games in one season against the Rangers was in 1997-98.
Henrik Lundqvist was strong in goal for the Rangers, turning aside 36 shots.
The Islanders came out hitting and took six of the first seven shots in the scoreless first period, which featured 7:05 of uninterrupted action.
The main target of the Islanders’ interest was Jaromir Jagr.
“We have to get on top of him real quick,” coach Ted Nolan said.
Witt added: “If you give Jagr open ice, he can make magical things happen. He’s very dangerous with the puck.”
Jagr gave the Islanders credit for holding him scoreless on five shots.
“They didn’t give me much space to skate,” he said. “They were pinching the defencemen and always making sure there were forwards (on me).”
The Rangers had a great opportunity to take the lead at 7:40 when Adam Hall had DiPietro down as he crossed the net from left to right, but the goalie stuck out his left pad and just got a piece of the puck on Hall’s shot.
DiPietro stayed sharp at the start of the second period, making a rising glove save on Jason Ward’s turnaround shot 30 seconds in.
Asham put the Islanders in front at 16:43 with his sixth goal of the season. He took a pass from Richard Park at the red line, sped into the slot and fired a 45-foot slap shot that hit defenceman Karel Rachunek’s stick and got past Lundqvist under his left arm.
“We’re at the point right now where any breakdown spells doom for us,” Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. “We feel we put ourselves in this mess and we’ll get ourselves out of it.”
The Islanders made it 2-0 shortly after a power play expired early in the third. With sustained pressure in the Rangers zone, Blake took former Ranger Tom Poti’s cross-ice pass and wristed a shot from the left circle over Lundqvist’s glove for his team-leading 21st goal at 1:48.
DiPietro’s biggest save of the final period was on Shanahan’s point-blank one-timer from the right circle at 11:46.
Rangers coach Tom Renney benched forward Michael Nylander for all but 11 seconds of the final period after he took a double minor at the end of the second. Those 11 seconds spanned the time Nylander came out of the penalty box and Blake scored.
“I thought the penalty came at a tough time for our team,” Renney said. “It put us behind the eight-ball, and it came on the heels of an extended shift that wasn’t necessary.”
Afterward, DiPietro gave all the credit to his defence.
“The defence played phenomenal,” he said. “Our guys worked real hard.”
With 41 points after 35 games, the Islanders are one of the NHL’s biggest surprises. In their own locker room, they barely notice the plaudits.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to do as well as we’ve played at this point,” DiPietro said. “We still have more work to do, though.”
Meanwhile, the Rangers will try to snap their skid Friday night in Ottawa.
“I haven’t seen the team quit, that’s for sure,” Renney said. “The bottom line is that there is some solace in that, but the reality of that is it’s No. 6. We can’t pretend our way through wins. It’s going to take one thing, and one thing only, and that’s for all the guys on this team to get it done.”
Notes: The Islanders are 18-0-1 when leading after two periods. … For the first time in 19 home games, the Islanders announced a sellout crowd of 16,234.