John Tavares was everywhere. We would say this even if he didn't slip a backhand empty-netter for the hat trick, or even if he didn't put the game-winner in on a brilliant tip by a brilliant slap-pass from Mark Streit. The Rangers stood in the way, impeded progress, knocked him down, but he'd get his footing back, the puck would land on his stick, a scoring chance would follow.
He stands atop the NHL scoring leaderboard at this early moment, having a hand in all four Islanders goals tonight. More importantly, he looks faster and involved in more plays and, well, he's getting closer to the dreams Islanders fans had of him in summer 2009. And he's 21.
Derbies are always nerve-wrackers and this was no different, with a fantastic atmosphere of Isles and Smurfs fans that makes this rivalry fun and special. But the Islanders benefited from an opponent that hadn't played in a week, had shaken off tran-Atlantic travel, and was missing Marc Staal. (And Michael Sauer, and Wojtec Wolski.) They opened the game controlling play, drawing penalties and putting the Rangers on their heels. Twice they gave up the lead on opportunistic Ranger goals that capitalized on Islanders mistakes.
Then came the third period, a Tavares party. Just 3:30 into the third came the powerplay redirect. The Islanders managed the game well after that -- a late powerplay was played safe -- setting the stage for Matt Moulson to feed Tavares to make it rain. (Hats. Rain hats.)
Comeau Scratch, Nabokov Debut
Lost in all this, Evgeni Nabokov had a strong debut in the Islanders net, stopping 29 of 31 shots. There was a scary moment mid-way through the third where it looked like he stretched wrong with his left leg and was slow getting up. But he was able to finish the game without ill effect.
The first Rangers goal was a Marian Gaborik breakaway -- those tend to be hard to stop -- after Marty Reasoner lost the puck inside the Rangers blueline and Brad Richards sent Gaborik home free. The second goal was a defensive mismanagement that ended with a Brandon Prust wraparound going in off of Frans Nielsen's skate. The defense helped get to rebounds, with only two really hairy sequences where the D saved Nabokov's bacon -- including a fantastic Travis Hamonic pokecheck in the second.
Also lost in this: The decision to scratch 24-goal-scorer Blake Comeau for enforcer Trevor Gillies' first game (four shifts, 2:47) did not backfire. I'm generally a Comeau defender -- he can score and kill penalties -- but I'll never deny that he has been an interesting case to manage over the years. If you look through the lineup for players who might need a coaching "message" sent from time to time, he is in my top three.
Whether Gillies is necessary is a topic of tired debate, but it will be interesting to watch the next move now that Gillies is off IR and Jack Capuano has the extra "I can scratch you" slot.
The powerplay mostly sustained good possession and pressure, but the Brian Rolston role at the point is still up for debate. He takes a long time to curl around to his forehand and he forced some passes (and shots), but I also suspect the Islanders' worst powerplay was when he and Streit and the top line had already logged a lot of first-period minutes. Roughly 2:29 for those guys on the PP in that period alone. The powerplay did go 2 for 8 though and exhibited mostly good Henrik Lundqvist-testing pressure, so hard to complain.
Various Notes Unsuitable for Conventional Paragraph Structure
- Nice to see the Islanders draw more penalties than the opponents (8 Rangers penalties, 4 Islanders). It was deserved. Outside of the Gaborik-Richards connection, the Islanders drove the bulk of play. Gaborik's neutral-zone hook of Frans Nielsen in a one-goal game with under five minutes left was tremendously stupid, and welcome.
- Actually, there was also a too many men call, a Brian Boyle delay of game for pawing the puck for too long, and a Tim Erixon interference -- a lot of bad penalties by the Rangers that no doubt drove John Torotorella nuts.
- Tavares' first PP goal had a bit of luck to it, but there was also a subtle touch to his backhand: He didn't just shovel the rebound like many players would. Instead he collected it, paused for a millisecond, and then shot, which I think let Lundqvist set, legs open just enough, the way a goalie does when he's expecting an immediate rebound toss.
- So, Mark Streit is back then, eh?
- The Islanders' biggest weakness has not been Comeau or the third line; it's been their third pairing of Mike Mottau and Mark Eaton. Mottau has been the weaker link there, but neither in their better days has been responsible for elevating a weaker partner. (Of course, one of the few times Eaton wasn't out there with Mottau, Hamonic was on the ice and Reasoner's turnover led to the breakaway goal. Single goals and single games never tell the full story.) Come back, Milan Jurcina.
- I love it when Matt Moulson scores the first goal in this game. Great celebration that reflects the extra intensity of this rivalry.
- Tavares' helped lead that rush on Moulson's goal but also provided the essential screen on a nicely placed shot by Matty Mo.
- Matt Martin replaced Comeau on the Josh Bailey-Brian Rolston line and looked about as good as he has in the previous three games so far. Officially he had four hits and two shots, and ties Tavares for the team lead in shots on the season with 12. He's obviously taking literally the Capuano mantra of getting pucks to the net. His is another evolution that will be worth keeping tabs on. There is plenty of forward competition looming from below in the next year or two.
- Without frequent running mate Comeau, I thought Bailey had a alright game. Not particularly offensively, of course, but he and Rolston faced Richards and Gaborik the most tonight. I'll be interested to see how bad their scoring chance table is. Is Jack Capuano turning him into a defense-focused role?
Most importantly, the Rangers are winless and the Islanders have three regulation wins. Sweet.
Hat Trick Boy
Tavares talks after his third career hat trick:
Capuano on the game: Complimentary and pleased, but also: "We can play better -- we gave up some good scoring chances." Agreed:
Plenty more at Isles TV.
FIG Winners: Lots of people picked Moulson, but Jones79 nailed the assists and was closest in game time. Lots of points to go around, which we'll tally up and add to the standings.