Simply put, it was a superlative penalty killing performance by the Devils on Super Bowl Sunday.
New Jersey’s 3-0 matinee win over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum was marked by a perfect seven-for-seven effort against the NHL’s best power play.
“What killed us basically the last game [a 5-4 loss to the Islanders Thursday] was the power play,” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said. “We tightened up defensively and the big difference was the penalty kill. I thought defensively, at home the other day, we were fine five-on-five and they ate us alive on the power play. So we fixed that.”
The Devils clogged the middle of the ice and challenged the Islanders’ shooters, who only managed five shots on seven power plays. By comparison, the Devils had three short-handed shots.
“We can’t get too frustrated. We had our opportunities on our power play,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “[The Devils] came a little bit more aggressive I thought.”
Steve Bernier scored twice in a 50-second span of the third period to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. David Clarkson potted an empty-netter with 22 seconds left to salt away the Devils’ first win in five games (1-1-3). Johan Hedberg made 22 saves as he earned his 22nd career shutout.
“That’s depth. You need it. It’s a long season especially in the grind of the schedule that we’re in the middle of right now,” DeBoer said. “You need contributions from all kinds of different people.”
Bernier slammed a power-play rebound past Evgeni Nabokov at 16:06 of the third period for the game’s first goal. He added his second at 17:16.
“We [shot] the puck and go for the rebound. That’s exactly what happened,” Bernier said. “On the second, our line did a great job on the forecheck. We were able to keep the puck in. I was trying to put the puck in the right places in front of Nabby where I [would] be able to get the rebound and the puck went in. It’s great. Obviously great work by everybody on the ice.”
Nabokov was the best Islander on the ice Sunday afternoon as he made 24 saves.
“He played well. Kept us in, especially in the second period when they gained some momentum,” Capuano said. “[New Jersey] came at us pretty hard. Nabby gave us a chance to win the game.
“He made some good saves at key moments of the game. I thought he played exceptionally well.”
But Nabokov was the only Islander player to receive praise from the coach.
“There was no movement. There was no energy. They were winning all the puck battles. We weren’t moving our feet. We weren’t functioning properly,” Capuano said. “You’re not going to generate any offense if you don’t go to those hot areas and tonight I thought we were on the perimeter way too much.
“There’s a few adjustments we have to make [before Tuesday’s game against the Penguins]. I don’t know if it is personnel or lines but we have to realize that it’s not good enough. We were in a pretty good hockey game for 55 minutes. We just couldn’t close it out.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.