By Allan Kreda
The Associated Press
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders used a smothering defense and some timely scoring to move closer to a playoff berth.
Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson scored to back Robin Lehner’s fifth shutout of the season as the Islanders beat the Coyotes 2-0 Sunday.
Lehner stopped 31 shots to help the Islanders win for the second time in two days and keep pace with first place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals, who beat Philadelphia 3-1 earlier Sunday, lead New York by one point with six games remaining for both teams, including a matchup at Washington in the season finale on April 6.
“Those are dangerous hockey games. We had chances to pull away and they hung around,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We got it done.”
New York can clinch a spot in the postseason with a Columbus loss in regulation later Sunday and if the Islanders beat the Blue Jackets on the road Tuesday night.
Starting for the second straight day, Lehner had nine saves in the first period, and 11 each in the second and third to improve to 22-12-5 this season. The Islanders, who beat the Flyers 4-2 on Saturday, improved to 11-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs. The Islanders also lead the NHL with 10 shutouts. Lehner’s counterpart Thomas Greiss also has five shutouts this season.
“I feel like the majority of games we’ve won, we’ve gone into the third period 1-0, 2-1, low scores,” said Lehner, who signed with the Islanders as free agent last summer. “When we are playing our game, we have confidence. We play hard, wait for them to make mistakes and try to capitalize on it.”
With New York leading 1-0, defenseman Johnny Boychuk was called for slashing at 6:42 of the third but the Islanders completely smothered the Coyotes on the ensuing power play. At 8:47, the Islanders had their chance with the man advantage when Arizona defenseman Jason Demers was called for hooking.
Lehner then stopped former Islander Michael Grabner — who has a league-best six short-handed goals this season — on a breakaway.
“He’s good on breakaways. It happens pretty quick,” Lehner said. “It was nice that it hit my arm and they didn’t score.”
Nelson made it 2-0 with 3:14 remaining with his 24th of the season. It was initially waved off by the officials but the call was overturned after a video review
“Big goal by Nelly,” Trotz said. “It feels right the way we play. You don’t really worry about the score. We can frustrate teams. And the results sort of come.”
Eberle put the Islanders ahead 4:37 into the game when he tapped a rebound of Nick Leddy’s shot past Darcy Kuemper. It was Eberle’s 15th of the season, but just his second since Feb. 9.
“Any time you get an early lead, especially on a back-to-back, it’s huge,” Eberle said. “You have to match team’s desperation. I like the way that we played.”
Kuemper finished with 24 saves as the Coyotes lost their fifth straight (0-3-2), and finished 0-3-1 on a four-game trip. Arizona hasn’t won since March 14 against Anaheim at home, where there will play four of their last six games as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Kuemper kept the Coyotes in the game with a series of excellent saves in the second period.
“That was a good defensive game. I thought we had good possession,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “We are just having a tough time scoring right now.”
The Islanders were 12-6-2 this season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and are now 11-6-2 at Nassau Coliseum with two home games remaining. … New York’s Barry Trotz coached his 1,600th career game, moving seven games behind former Islanders coach Al Arbour who is third on the all-time list. … The Islanders are 30-14-6 when the line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck all play. … The Islanders scratched D Thomas Hickey, D Luca Sbisa, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Michael Dal Colle, F Ross Johnston and injured F Valtteri Filppula. … Arizona scratched D Jakob Chychrun, D Kevin Connauton, F Nick Cousins. and F Conor Garland. … The Islanders won the previous meeting 3-1 on Dec. 18 in Arizona.
Islanders: At Columbus on Tuesday night.
Coyotes: Host Chicago on Tuesday night.