ANAHEIM, Calif. – Curtis McElhinney realizes he’s not likely to play much for the Anaheim Ducks this season, so the backup goalie is determined to maximize every opportunity—even when his teammates give him the absolute minimum of offensive help.
McElhinney made 27 saves for his first career shutout, Saku Koivu scored early in the third period and the Ducks held off the New York Islanders 1-0 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory.
The Ducks managed just 14 shots and appeared exhausted for long stretches of their fourth game in six nights, failing even to get a shot in the first 18 minutes. With McElhinney standing strong, Anaheim still sent the foundering Islanders to their eighth straight loss while preserving the momentum of their longest streak in 10 months.
“This was a nice turn of events,” McElhinney said. “We were just hanging in there, and we end up scoring in the third period.”
The 27-year-old is in his third full NHL season after the Ducks acquired him from Calgary last March. He’s likely to get most of his starts this season on the back end of back-to-back games to spell workhorse first-stringer Jonas Hiller, who made 39 saves in a gritty overtime win in San Jose a night earlier.
“Curtis was an unknown because he didn’t really get to play in Calgary, either (behind Miikka Kiprusoff),” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “But here’s another example of him stepping to the forefront. He’s one of the guys you like to see succeed, because he’s a no-maintenance player.”
The Ducks are finally seeing some outstanding results after nearly breaking down during a 2-4-1 start. Anaheim has jumped back into the upper half of the Western Conference standings with its longest winning streak since January, capped by its first shutout of the season.
“We were looking at the standings, and it didn’t even seem like we were close early on,” McElhinney said. “But we didn’t dig ourselves too much of a hole, so now that we’re starting to get some breaks again, we’re right back in it.”
Dwayne Roloson stopped 13 shots for the Islanders, who haven’t won since Oct. 21. New York still must visit the NHL’s other two California clubs in the next three days before finally ending a brutal stretch with 12 of 15 games on the road.
“There’s a lot of things you can say—snake-bitten, unlucky, say whatever you want,” Roloson said. “It’s just the way things have been going. We’re not able to get pucks in the net.”
Moments after the Islanders’ fifth fruitless power play, Teemu Selanne carried the puck into New York’s end and fed teenage defenceman Cam Fowler, who made a drop pass to Koivu for the veteran’s fourth goal in four games. Koivu also beat the Islanders with an overtime winner last March at the Honda Center.
“We certainly didn’t play our best game or get the shots we wanted, but you still have to find ways to win games,” Koivu said. “We feel fortunate to get two points, though. The puck wasn’t bouncing our way.”
The Islanders’ frustration boiled over with 4:11 to play when Zenon Konopka got a game misconduct after a bitter spat with the officials. Konopka broke the blade off his stick on the boards in frustration as he exited.
“I don’t know what it is about this streak that we’re on,” said Islanders defenceman James Wisniewski, traded by Anaheim in July. “We just can’t find ways to score goals. I think this is about the third or fourth time now that we’ve played against backup goalies, and they’ve played unbelievable. The power play was awful. I’ll take full blame for that. We were just standing around.”
Although Anaheim finally got its first shot of the night on Koivu’s short-handed chance with about 1:46 left, it was the Ducks’ only shot in the first period—and the Islanders didn’t fare much better, going without a shot in the final eight minutes.
The closest thing to a goal in the first two periods occurred when Wisniewski batted a puck out of the air past McElhinney, but was whistled for obvious high-sticking. New York went scoreless on four power plays, while Anaheim failed even to get a shot on its first two power plays.
“We’ve just played two of our best defensive games of the year back to back,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “If you’re committed to playing the way we have the last two games defensively, eventually the offence is going to come.”
NOTES: Ducks D Luca Sbisa played an aggressive game just a few hours after being recalled from Syracuse (AHL). He replaced Sheldon Brookbank, who missed the game because of a strained right hamstring. … Wisniewski joined the Ducks at the 2009 trade deadline and led Anaheim in blocked shots last season, but was traded after rejecting the club’s long-term contract offers and filing for arbitration.