The New York Islanders played a smart hockey game to close out 2011. After inducting defenseman Ken Morrow into the Isles Hall of Fame, the present day Islanders got strong goaltending from Evegeni Nabokov and won both sides of the special teams battle to down the visiting Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Matt Moulson led the way with a goal and two assists while John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau each scored once and set up another goal.
“Goaltending and special teams were huge factors in the win,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano said after the game. “Our penalty killers did a great job against a highly skilled team and I thought our power play scored some timely goals and I think Nabby (Nabokov) made some big saves at some key moments.”
The Islanders scored two goals in three power play chances while holding the Oilers off the score board in four chances with the man advantage. Nabokov made 28 saves to help lead the Islanders to their second straight victory.
The Islanders took an early lead on Tavares’ power play goal just 3:44 into the contest. With Ben Eager in the penalty box for roughing, the Isles went to work. Parenteau and Moulson made some pinpoint cross ice passes that set Tavares up for an easy backhander into an open side of the Oilers net.
The Oilers struck back with 7:02 left in the opening period when Sam Gagner tipped home a shot from the right point by Corey Potter. The goal was upheld after a review by the War Room in Toronto and the game was tied 1-1.
The War Room made a second review just 17 seconds later after Moulson put the puck in the net off his skate from just outside the crease. This goal was disallowed, however as it was determined Moulson made a distinct kicking motion on the play.
“I think it was a debatable kick in,” Moulson said. “If it was called a goal on the ice, it would have been tougher to overturn. I think it was more of my follow through afterward, but luckily I got one after that.”
The goal that counted for Moulson came with 2:05 left in the first period and was by far the prettiest play of the night. Moulson and Tavares engaged in a give and go play that resulted in a spinning backhanded pass by Tavares which Moulson deposited into the Oilers goal.
“It was a heck of a play, “Moulson said. “He [Tavares] drew both guys over, had the puck on his backhand and made a pretty good spin-o-rama pass. I just had to be there to clean up the garbage.”
The Islanders power play struck again early in the second period. Matt Martin goaded Eager into taking a second roughing infraction. Martin refused to drop the gloves on the play and was not assessed a penalty. On the resulting power play, Parenteau let a high wrist shot go from the circle that made it 3-1 Isles. Again, quick puck movement and good cross ice passing on the power play made the goal possible.
“You’ve got to be smart in a situation like that,” Martin said. “We knew coming in that we had to be disciplined. He really wanted to fight but at the end of the day, I’m not here to please him, I’m here to win hockey games and put my team in the best situation to win.”
Martin further improved his team’s chances to win less than an minute later when he scored on a bad angle shot in the corner near the goal line to make it 4-1 Islanders. The Isles scored four goals on their first nine shots on goal in the game. Despite the shaky start, Oilers Coach Tom Renney stuck with Devan Dubnyk in net and he did not allow another goal the rest of the night.
Midway through the second period, ex-Isles defenseman Andy Sutton hit John Tavares late near the far boards. No penalty was called on the play and Tavares briefly skated off to the dressing room to be checked out. He returned a few minutes later to a large ovation from the crowd.
“I thought it was a little late,” Tavares said after the game. “I know he can hit harder than that so I know he probably just came and finished his check and didn’t mean any harm, but I felt it was a little late and I wasn’t expecting it. It’s tough for the refs to make calls…It feels it happens more often than not, for sure…Calls should be calls and you’d like to have them made.”
In the third period, the Islanders controlled the tempo, outshooting the Oilers 16-8. Nabokov stopped all eight shots to shut the door on the Oilers comeback chances.
“I just want to continue to focus on the things that make us successful,” Capuano added. “We talk about our identity and what we have to do to win and what our formula for success is and we want to maintain that focus and play the way we have to play.”
The Isles return to action Tuesday night when they travel to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers look to end their three-game losing streak Monday night when they head to Chicago to face the Blackhawks.
Morrow was the second Islander to be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame this season. Howie Rose was the host of a tasteful pregame ceremony. Morrow’s college coach at Bowling Green, Ron Mason was in attendance for the ceremony. Morrow was a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice squad that won the Olympic Gold Medal and then won four straight Stanley Cups with the Islanders from 1980-83.
Isles fans booed former Islanders forward Ryan Smyth each time he touched the puck. Smyth refused to re-sign with the Islanders after being traded by the Oilers back in 2008. He later signed with the Colorado Avalanche for less money than the Isles had offered.
The last three first overall draft picks were on the ice tonight with Tavares, Tyler Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all playing.