With so many good teams near the top of the Metropolitan Division, coach Barry Trotz knows his Washington Capitals need to bring their best effort every night if they plan to keep pace.
Brett Connolly and Justin Williams also scored for Washington, which improved to 18-7-3. Dating to a 2-1 overtime loss at Tampa Bay, the Capitals have earned 11 out of a possible 12 points.
"We need to continue to have consistency," Trotz said. "We're now 11 games over .500 and we're fourth in the division."
After a five-game winning streak, the Islanders have dropped their past two. New York's 11-12-5 record is the worst in the Metropolitan Division.
"Our goal right now is to finish a couple games above .500 going into the Christmas break," center Casey Cizikas said. "I thought we played well enough to win."
Brock Nelson and Nikolay Kulemin scored for the Islanders, and Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves.
"We find ways to lose games," Halak said. "We're not finding a way to win a game."
The third meeting of the season between the teams — and second in 12 days — was a tight-checking game. Neither club was able to sustain sequences in the offensive zone, though the Capitals finished with a 38-28 advantage in shots on goal.
Niskanen's wrister from the left circle 1:34 into the third put Washington ahead for good. The defenseman snapped in a feed from partner Dmitry Orlov, as all five Islanders were on the left side of the ice.
"I don't think [Halak] saw it," Niskanen said.
From there, Braden Holtby made the lead hold up.
Holtby stopped 26 shots, with his two toughest saves coming on Josh Bailey's goal-mouth backhand with 11 minutes left and John Tavares' snap shot from the slot nearly two minutes later as the Capitals held on to their one-goal lead.
"I felt like I was moving and seeing the puck pretty well," Holtby said. "They're a team that always [seems] to push in the third against us. My job is to be ready."
Niskanen's power-play goal with 1:57 left ended the scoring.
JuCo LB Underwood commits to Terps
Junior-college linebacker Nick Underwood committed to the Maryland football team Tuesday, he announced on Twitter. He's the fourth pledge in as many days, joining twins Breyon and Brandon Gaddy and Tyran Hunt. "Blessed to say I have officially committed to the University of Maryland!" Underwood wrote. Underwood took an official visit to Maryland on Thursday, according to InsideMDSports.com, and will enroll early, which helps the Terps' scholarship distribution. Underwood is the 26th member of Maryland's Class of 2017, but by enrolling early, he would count as a member of the Class of 2016. Good Counsel's Ayinde Eley is the Terps' only other linebacker commit. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Underwood committed to Air Force while in high school in Oregon but ended up at Riverside Community College (Calif.), where Terps cornerback J.C. Jackson played last season. Undwerwood was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southern California Football Association this season and also had offers from Washington State, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.
Coaching: Danny Rocco is the new coach at Delaware. Rocco, 56, who was Maryland's outside linebackers coach in 1998 and 1999, spent five years as coach at Richmond, where he went 43-22 and guided the Spiders into the Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs in three straight seasons, including a berth in the semifinals in 2015. Before that, Rocco went 57-20 in six years at Liberty. Delaware went 4-7 last year and has endured successive losing seasons for the first time since 1938-39. Richmond and Delaware are both in the Colonial Athletic Association, but Delaware has a larger enrollment and a larger stadium.
Bowl: Complimentary tickets are available for service members and their families to attend the Military Bowl. The game, which celebrates the USO's 75th anniversary, matches No. 24 Temple and Wake Forest. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and will be televised on ESPN. Service members can sign up to receive as many as six vouchers for tickets via USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore's Ticketline program at metro.uso.org/programs/ticketline. Fans can donate to Tickets for Troops at militarybowl.org/militarytickets.
Alex Crognale, a first-team All-American at Maryland, has signed a homegrown contract with the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer, sources said. The 6-foot-5 center back joined the Crew's academy before enrolling at Maryland. He was the Big Ten Defender of the Year this season for the top-ranked Terps, who took an undefeated record into the NCAA tournament and lost to Providence in the second round. The aerial specialist had six goals this year. Crognale's Maryland teammate, German sophomore forward Gordon Wild, is not in the primary batch of underclassmen targeted by MLS for Generation Adidas contracts despite 33 goals in two seasons (16 at South Carolina-Upstate in 2015, 17 at Maryland this fall) .If the league does not pursue him, Wild is expected to return for his junior season in College Park. ... The LA Galaxy introduced Curt Onalfo as coach. Onalfo, 47, replaces Bruce Arena, who accepted the U.S. national team job two weeks ago. Arena and Onalfo are onetime head coaches of D.C. United, with which Onalfo played.
—Steven Goff, The Washington Post
Nationals: Washington signed infielder Emmanuel Burriss and three pitchers to minor league deals with invitations to spring training. Burriss, who attended Wilson High, is a 31-year-old switch-hitter who has a .237 average and .565 OPS in 326 major league games with the San Francisco Giants, Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies. Washington also added right-handers Jacob Turner and Mike Broadway, and left-hander Tim Collins.
—Chelsea Janes, The Washington Post
More baseball: The Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a minor league contract with former Orioles right-handed reliever Ryan Webb.
Major Arena Soccer League: Blast goalkeeper William Vanzela, who had his fifth career shutout Saturday night in a win over the Florida Tropics, made the Team of the Week. Forward Vini Dantas received honorable mention.
NFL: The Buffalo Bills placed former Ravens safety James Ihedigbo on injured reserve with an ankle injury suffered Sunday. ... The Washington Redskins placed defensive end Anthony Lanier II on injured reserve, signed linebacker Nick Moody, released defensive lineman Trevon Coley and defensive back Lee Hightower from the practice squad, and signed DL A.J. Francis (Maryland) and DB Shak Randolph to the practice squad.
Varsity girls soccer: Archbishop Spalding's Ashly Kennedy was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Private/Parochial School South Region Coach of the Year.
Women's college basketball: Maryland senior Brionna Jones (Aberdeen) was named Big Ten Conference Player of the Week. … Delaney Connolly of Oakton High in Virginia and Izzy Therien of Cherokee High in New Jersey signed letters of intent with Loyola Maryland.
Men's indoor track and field: Navy was picked in the Patriot League preseason poll to finish first, receiving 16 of 18 first-place votes.
Women's indoor track and field: Navy was picked in the Patriot League preseason poll to finish sixth. Loyola Maryland was picked for ninth.
—From Sun staff and news services