John Tavares notched a hat trick and added an assist to help lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Rangers before a boisterous sold out crowd at Nassau Coliseum. Evgeni Nabokov made 29 saves to earn the win in his first start as an Islander. The Isles have now won three straight games after losing their season opener a week ago.
“There were some great plays from my linemates and I benefited from them,” Tavares said when asked about his hat trick. “It’s nice to produce, it’s what I do best. I take a lot of pride in it so it’s nice to come through.”
The red-hot Tavares now has eight points in his last two games and has really impressed Isles Coach Jack Capuano. “The thing about John is he played solid in his own end and when he got his opportunities, he made the best of them,” Capuano said. “He’s been our best player. He’s a student of the game, he works extremely hard and he’s going to get his chances. He’s playing with confidence…When Johnny goes well, he makes people around him better.”
Special teams played a big role in this game as the Rangers consistently took penalties that set up the Isles power play. The home team converted twice on seven power play chances while holding the Rangers scoreless in just four opportunities with the man advantage.
“We gave them too many power plays,” Rangers forward Marian Gaborik admitted. “We have to stay out of the box. I thought five-on-five we dominated, but too bad we couldn’t generate more goals. In the third period, that second half of the period, we couldn’t generate enough offense. We need to work even harder.”
The Islanders broke out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a goal by Matt Moulson. A pass by Tavares deflected to Moulson at the left circle and the two-time 30 goal scorer beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to the stick side at the 12:04 mark of the first period to break the ice.
The Rangers battled back early in the second period when free agent acquisition Brad Richards made a long pass to Marian Gaborik who had snuck behind the Isles defense. Gaborik beat Nabokov and evened the score at 1-1 just 6:23 into the middle stanza. Richards now has a point in all three games he has played with the Rangers.
Tavares’ first goal gave the Isles a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. He scored a power play goal on a backhand off the rebound of a point shot by defenseman Mark Streit. Lundqvist stopped the initial shot with his pads but couldn’t catch up to the second shot in the sequence.
With just 1:34 left in the second period, the Rangers again tied the score on a wraparound goal by Brandon Prust. The puck deflected in off the skate of Isles center Frans Nielsen, who was just outside the crease, and just eluded Nabokov’s skate.
The game-winner also came on the power play just 3:30 into the third period. With Dan Girardi in the penalty box for interference, Tavares deflected home a puck sent in by Streit that was half shot, half pass. An empty net goal by Tavares with 1:08 to go provided the Islanders with their final margin of victory and gave the Isles star his first hat trick of the season.
Throughout the game, the Rangers defense had some trouble keeping up with the Islanders speedier forwards. Having both Marc Staal and Michael Sauer out of the lineup certainly didn’t help but the Islanders speed helped them create opportunities.
Rangers Coach John Tortorella was frustrated by his team’s play. “We were in the [penalty] box too much. Simple as that. I’m not going to sit here and gripe. We have to be more disciplined. No excuses. [The Islanders] were the better hockey team, and the more disciplined team.”
Capuano was pleased with his club’s overall performance. “That was a good hockey game. Both teams played well. It was fast, it was physical, we got some timely bounces on the power play that we needed and it’s good to win the game.”
The Islanders begin their first road trip of the season when they return to action Thursday night in Tampa Bay. The Rangers head west to face the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night as part of a road trip to Western Canada.
Trevor Gillies saw his first action of the season for the Isles when Capuano decided to make Blake Comeau a healthy scratch. Milan Jurcina and Rick DiPietro remain out with injuries.
After the game, the Rangers demoted forward Mats Zuccarello to the Hartford Whale of the AHL and recalled Kris Newbury.
Marian Gaborik had a strong offensive game and led all players with eight shots on goal.
The Rangers outhit the Islanders 28-11. Dan Girardi had five hits to lead all players.
P.A. Parenteau had three assists for the Islanders.