NEW YORK — After missing the first four games, Jaroslav Halak has picked up where he left off last season for the New York Islanders.
Halak stopped 29 shots for his second shutout in his last three starts, Frans Nielsen scored twice and the Islanders beat the Calgary Flames 4-0 Monday night.
“Guys are doing so many good things in front of me,” said the mild-mannered Halak, who had a team-record 38 wins last season. “Everyone is doing a good job. And every point is huge for us.”
The win gave the Islanders a 6-2-1 mark after nine games and has them behind only the Rangers and undefeated Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference.
Mikhail Grabovski and Cal Clutterbuck also scored and Kyle Okposo and Nikolay Kulemin each had two assists to help the Islanders improve to 4-1-1 at home this season.
Grabovski, who scored the overtime winner at St. Louis on Saturday, beat Flames goalie Joni Ortio with a snap shot on the power play with just under 6 minutes left in the middle period for a 1-0 lead.
“You can’t win the Stanley Cup in the first 10 games but you can play yourself into playoff position in the first 10 games,” said Clutterbuck, whose third goal of the season was set up by linemate Casey Cizikas. “When we scored that first goal, it dampened their spirits and picked us up.”
Halak, who improved to 3-1 with a 1.76 goals-against average in four starts this season, also had a shutout at Columbus last Tuesday night. He missed the beginning of the season with an upper body injury.
“Jaro made some big saves when he had to,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “And I thought everyone contributed. We played pretty well tonight.”
Nielsen made it 2-0 with his second of the season 5:26 into the third period. Clutterbuck added to the lead with about 8 1/2 minutes to go, and Nielsen capped the scoring with his second of the game with 1:50 left.
“We were rewarded tonight with some goals we deserved,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “Our second and third efforts are paying off.”
The Flames, coming off a 4-1 defeat at the New York Rangers the previous night, lost for the seventh time in nine games.
“We can’t have too many more of these or it will get away from us pretty quickly,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “Tonight we unraveled a bit. We have to keep grinding and not let games slip away.”
The Islanders came out strong, registering five of the first six shots of the game on Ortio, who made strong saves on Boychuk and Nielsen. Casey Cizikas also rang a shot off the crossbar in the opening period.
New York held a 14-8 shots advantage in the first. Both teams had 10 shots in the second.
The Flames had 11 more shots in the third but couldn’t solve Halak, who improved to 3-1-0 this season. Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman had perhaps the best chance almost five minutes with a point-blank from the top of the left circle.
The 24-year-old Ortio made his first start of the season and finished with 31 saves. He became the backup when Karri Ramo was sent to the minors last week. The Finnish goaltender was a sixth-round draft pick by Calgary in 2009.
“He made some big saves to keep us in it,” Giordano said. “But we let in one goal get us down. We have to fight through and turn this around.”
The Flames, who won 45 games and finished with 97 points last season, are averaging less than two goals a game with just 16 goals in nine contests. They have yet to lead after two periods and they have yet to score more than three goals in a game.
Last season’s rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau hasn’t scored in the last seven games and has only one goal this season.
Islanders forward Ryan Strome returned after he was a healthy scratch in the previous game.