UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The Nashville Predators heard all about how good the New York Islanders have been against Western Conference teams.
They just didn’t see it.
Sergei Kostitsyn and Matt Halischuk scored on Nashville’s first two shots against goalie Kevin Poulin, and the surging Predators rolled to a 3-1 victory over the Islanders on Monday in a holiday matinee.
David Legwand also finished a precision three-way passing play to close out the dominating first period for the Predators, who won for the eighth time in nine games and are 14-4 in their past 18.
“We knew we had to be ready,” captain Shea Weber said. “We’re playing pretty good hockey right now, so if we continue to do that, things will be going well for us.”
Nashville (26-15-4) has 56 points, four behind the NHL lead, but is only fourth in the tough Central Division.
The Islanders dropped to 5-9-1 against Nashville and haven’t beaten the Predators in regulation since April 11, 2002. It was a disappointing end to New York’s homestand in which the Islanders went 2-2. They had been 15-1-7 at home in their last 23 games against clubs from the West.
“You always want to win your home games,” Islanders captain Mark Streit said. “We had a slow start today, and that’s kind of an understatement. It cost us the game. We knew that they are a good defensive team. They didn’t score a lot of goals in the past, but they scored two quick ones. We played a pretty good 40 minutes after, but it was just too late.”
Pekka Rinne made 36 saves for his 24th win, second in the NHL. He was denied his fourth shutout of the season when John Tavares extended his career-best point streak to nine games by scoring a goal with 3:58 remaining. Rinne’s best stop came midway through the second period when he made a quick glove save to turn aside Tavares during New York’s two-man power play.
“It was like we didn’t wake up on time,” Tavares said.
Rinne also stood his ground in the closing seconds of the middle period when the Islanders threatened with a flurry in front of the crease.
And the Predators played the final two periods without all-star defenceman Ryan Suter, who tried to play through a nagging injury but couldn’t. He hasn’t missed a game this season, but is doubtful for Tuesday night at the New York Rangers.
The Predators had seven defenceman in the lineup because of Suter’s iffy status, and were able to coast through the final 40 minutes. He logged seven minutes four seconds of ice time in 10 first-period shifts.
“He’s a great player, so it’s not easy when he goes out of the lineup,” said Weber, also an all-star defenceman. “The good thing is we’ve got some great young players, and they did a great job again.
The slow start was nothing new to the Islanders, who have allowed a goal on the first shot nine times this season. Kostitsyn connected for his 11th at 2:17 when he carried the puck into the slot and snapped a shot past Poulin. Nashville took it a step further by grabbing a 2-0 lead 3:17 later when Halischuk fired a shot from near the right wing boards that hit the stick of diving Islanders defenceman Steve Staios and bounded past Poulin for an unassisted goal.
When Poulin finally made a save with 12:39 left in the first, he received a mock cheer from the crowd that was filled with enthusiastic kids, who despite the lopsided score had a good time with a day off from school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I don’t think we started slow. We mismanaged the puck,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We made soft plays and they capitalized.”
Legwand started and finished the crisp passing exercise that gave Nashville a 3-0 edge. Legwand dropped the puck back to Colin Wilson in the Islanders zone and kept skating toward the net. Wilson crossed a pass to Martin Erat near the right post, and Erat quickly moved the puck across to Legwand, who easily scored his 13th goal into the open left side at 11:37.
“It was great to get on them quickly,” Legwand said. “We put pressure on them from the beginning.”
The 21-year-old Poulin stopped 29 shots in just his second start of the season for the Islanders, and first since being recalled from the AHL on Jan. 9. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in a 3-2 home loss to Dallas on Jan. 15. Evgeni Nabokov, who earned his 300th NHL victory Saturday against Buffalo, got the day off after playing in the previous 12 games—including 11 consecutive starts.
After this loss, the Islanders sent Poulin back to Bridgeport of the AHL.
“It’s tough. You can’t blame the goalie. He made some really big saves,” Streit said. “It’s just that the guys in front of him weren’t ready to play the first 20 minutes.”
NOTES: Nashville rookie centre Craig Smith missed his second straight game—and second this season—because of illness. … The Predators, 21-2-2 when scoring at least three goals, have outscored opponents 13-6 in the last 11 first periods. … The Islanders have used five goalies this season. … Poulin is 4-4-1 in 12 career NHL games.