John Tavares scored early and again late as the New York Islanders made it three consecutive wins Friday night with a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
After Tavares opened the scoring eight minutes into the game, the score remained 1-0 until 12:16 of the third period when Tavares got the puck in the slot, fended off Deryk Engelland and fired his team-leading 17th goal through the pads of Jonas Hiller.
"Obviously not a whole lot of offence tonight, just trying to play a good solid road game," said Tavares.
The Flames got a goal from Johnny Gaudreau — his 13th of the season — with 3:25 left in the third period to get back within one but they could not tie it against Jaroslav Halak, who had 22 stops to win his seventh straight game.
"Guys played great. Everybody was back-checking, tracking back hard, we didn't give up too much," said Halak, who improved to 21-6-0. "It could have been perfect or better if they didn't score but a win is a win."
New York (26-11-1) improves to 7-1-1 in its last nine games and keeps pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders third stop on a season-long seven-game road trip is Sunday in Edmonton.
Calgary (21-16-3) had its four-game winning streak snapped. The Flames are not back in action until Wednesday when they host Detroit. They are 3-1-0 with two games left on a six-game homestand.
"They were just getting pucks first and out-battling us," said Flames centre Josh Jooris. "That first period wasn't the greatest and we got behind the 8-ball early."
Most upsetting for the Flames was that their overall effort wasn't up to the standard they've shown all season.
"It's disappointing. That's our game, what we pride ourselves on. But we just got outworked tonight," Jooris said.
The first game of 2015 for both teams looked more like the first game of the pre-season for much of the night. The game was devoid of any flow with both teams guilty of errant passes, numerous stoppages for icings and offsides and general sloppy play, especially in the first two periods.
"A pretty boring hockey game to be honest with you. But that said, that's how we want to play on the road," said Islanders right-winger Kyle Okposo. "We were half-an-inch off in the offensive zone and didn't get quite as many chances as we'd have liked but I thought we did a pretty good job of limiting theirs."
Calgary coach Bob Hartley saw the game similarly.
"I felt that our passing was not what it usually is — lots of bouncing pucks and pucks off the skates. The first period, we were not there at all. We basically survived that first period. Then in the second, we got better. The third period, we got better. But our execution was not good enough."
Looking to tie the game, the Flames got back-to-back power plays early in the third period but were unable to take advantage against a New York penalty-killing unit ranked 29th in the NHL.
Calgary failed to generate a shot on the first chance and the best scoring chance of the second power play — a Curtis Glencross set up of Sean Monahan — was stopped on a superb pad save by Halak.
"We need a lot more. We're not happy about that," said Monahan. "Power plays are a big part of the game and that's how you've got to win hockey games. When you have that man advantage, you have to find a way to bury one."
New York took a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the game, capitalizing on a two-minute two-man advantage.
With Lance Bouma already in the penalty box for tripping, Matt Stajan was sent off on the ensuing face-off for covering his hand on the puck.
Calgary killed off the first 45 seconds of the 5-on-3 without any troubles but once the Islanders got set up, they moved the puck around nicely and eventually, Ryan Strome fed a perfect pass through the top of the crease to Tavares, who one-timed a shot in the open side before Hiller could slide across.
"Some pretty good skill up there and Strome made a heck of a pass," said Okposo, who also had an assist.
Tavares said it was a matter of being patient when you have that much time to work with.
"There's no reason to rush any shots. I think you want to create some movement, see what they're giving you and try to make them commit and create some lanes," Tavares said. "When you get a good look, you have to take it. That's what we tried to do."
Calgary pulled their goalie for the extra attacker in the final minute but could not pull out another late comeback. The Flames lead the NHL with eight wins when trailing entering the third period.
"I really believe that the Islanders showed us why they're having such a great season," said Hartley.
Hiller had 22 stops for the Flames. His record falls to 13-11-2.
Notes: In two career games at the Saddledome, Tavares has four goals. He also scored twice in his only previous appearance four years ago... The Flames shuffled their lines a little bit moving RW Joe Colborne onto a line with Monahan and Glencross and dropping David Jones to the fourth line alongside Matt Stajan and Brandon Bollig... LW Mason Raymond was a healthy scratch for Calgary for the second game in a row... The Islanders record when scoring first improves to 14-8-1. However, they still have a better record when surrendering the first goal (12-3-0).