As Islanders Outsider noted, Matt Moulson did his first career hat trick every which way: A blast from out high, a very nifty quick-decision deke on the goalie, and a deflection of a Mark Streit bomb from the point to seal it. (John Tavares, showing the goal scorer's lust for tallies we so desperately need, finished the scoring on an empty-netter with 0.4 seconds left.)
The Islanders pretty well played an outstanding road game. I watched the Thrashers' feed, and their announcers -- doing something we hear more and more these days -- raved about the Islanders' work ethic, relentless puck pursuit, and even their team defense. But none of that matters tonight if Mighty-Matty-Mo doesn't finish what Trent Hunter and Streit are dishing out. God love this team.
Standings note: Continuing a downward spiral that has nothing to do with Nine Inch Nails nor any famous golfer's marriage, Philadelphia was shut out at home by the Canucks, which means the Islanders not only jumped into 8th place in the conference, they're also looking down at the Flyers and Rangers. Nice view.
But our featured matchup was as billed (except for the me predicting lots of goals part): Pretty entertaining, cleanly played game, with the Isles only being whistled for two penalties, and the Thrashers for three. Moulson's second goal was the only powerplay goal of the night, but it was off the rush -- not a typical powerplay goal nor sign of life for that unit. While the Thrashers were outworked, don't let the score fool you: This was a tight game that could have turned either way with the wrong bounce. In that context, the Islanders played just like we know they can.
No dumb penalties. Swell finishing from the hat trick hero. Timely saves from Dwayne Roloson (who kept the deficit to just one goal in the first, and protected the Islanders' lead during a few hairy moments in the second and third). Did I mention no killer penalties?
To answer my own question from the game thread, yes, Moulson's dad -- he of the "Well you better call them back!" story about the message Moulson received from Cornell when his youth career appeared stalled -- was indeed in attendance to see his son's first NHL contract. As Moulson told reporters:
"He told me if I didn't score and we didn't win, he was locking me out of the (hotel) room," said Moulson, who leads the Islanders with 14 goals. "I've already threatened him a couple of times to throw him out with all his snoring."
Let's Say We Look at that First Goal One More Time
All of Moulson's goals were textbook examples of how to be a complete offensive hockey player. But his first one (all of them are in the video package above, but this one is posted separately below) was a telling beauty: For one, the Thrashers backchecker who merely floats by him in the Atlanta zone is none other than Ilya Kovalchuk, who finished minus-3 on the night.
But most impressive on that first goal was Moulson's patience and vision: You shouldn't get an open shot when you carry the puck into the zone 1-on-2 along the boards the way Moulson did. But Streit's entrance -- combined with Kovalchuk's brain fart -- caused both defensemen to back in (they no doubt thought Ilya would cover his man), and suddenly the ice at the top of the slot was wide open for Moulson to tee off. Of course, that open ice doesn't mean much unless you can unleash a blast over the shoulder the way Moulson did. Have another look:
A blast, a deke, a deflection. This, my friends, was no cheap hat trick.
The Non-Moulson Part of the Night: Frans & Friends Shut 'Em Down
Frans Nielsen's shoulder was good enough that he did get the call, so Rob Schremp remained a healthy scratch. And while I wouldn't mind seeing Schremp shake off his cobwebs every now and then, there is a very big reason I was happy to see Nielsen back in the lineup:
Frans, Trent Hunter and Sean Bergenheim drew the Thrashers' big line of Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov most of the night. Kovlachuk managed six shots (four at even strength) but was held scoreless (and frankly ineffective). Hunter and Bergenheim had seven shots between them, all of them at even strength except for Bergenheim's lone shorthanded shot. So Gordon was able to line perhaps his three most defensively responsible forwards against the Thrashers big line, holding them scoreless, while Moulson took care of business on the other side of the ledger.
One-off: The streak is over. Andrew MacDonald has finally been on the ice for a goal against. Sure, Bryan Little made a nifty move to make Brendan Witt look stationary, but that's why you have a
defensive partner backchecking forward, and it was MacDonald's Nate Thompson's man (Slava Kozlov) who ended up knocking it in. MacDonald is blemished but still blameless.
But I'm so thrilled at Moulson's performance (okay, and Frans, too), that's all I have. You guys had reactions and celebrations in the game thread. Any more, take it away here. This one's worth celebrating for a day before we worry about
Tavares Moulson v. Hedman on Saturday.