Tavares ‘Tricks’ Devils, Helps Islanders With Decisive Win at Home
By Rich Dias-Rodrigues
UNIONDALE, N.Y.– John Tavares records his 4th career Hat Trick, while Matt Moulson plies four points of his own (3 assists 1 goal) as the New York Islanders wreak havoc on the first place New Jersey Devils beating them 5-1.
The Islanders played a fast-paced, energetic game, filled with a general sense of determination, grit, and poise the likes of which makes any fan wonder: where in the world has this team been the last two weeks? Nevertheless, the Islanders brought a gameplan the Devils couldn’t quite overcome, and suffered one of their worst losses of the season.
The usually stingy Johan Hedberg looked off his game after playing a stout first period, which saw him stop only nine recorded shots, but also bore witness to a hungry Islanders’s forecheck, as well. The Jersey netminder has had the Isles’s number as of late, and after a David Ullstrom penalty shot that clanked off the crossbar, the sense of ‘it’s going to be one of those nights for the hapless Islanders’ reared its ugly head and settled at the pit of one’s stomach.
The Isles would eventually capitalize on generous rebounds proffered by Hedberg and an erratic and undisciplined Devils defense. And as pointed out in my previous article, as long as the Islanders would force the Devils to chase and remained tough against them on the boards, as long as they played precision-like hockey, a victory would surely come.
The first period belonged to the goalies, as Evgeni Nabokov stopped a barrage of shots, 15 in total, remaining focused on several screened attempts, as the Isles’s defense deftly cleared any and all rebounds. Johan Hedberg made some key saves as well, the one on Brad Boyes characteristic of his play, as of late, against the Islanders:
The period would end scoreless, but not without full-paced action, a blown penalty shot, and a sense that both teams were waiting for the other to make that one critical mistake to rip open this matchup.
And it would be Tavares, with help from consistent forechecking and battles won against the boards, drawing first blood midway through the second period; he would score the first of three at the 16:46 mark, forcing the Devils to skate more aggressively on their already tired legs from that point onward:
Tavares’s rebound opportunity would be a testament to Hedberg’s downfall this evening, as the Jersey netminder was incapable of taming Islander shots; the Devils’s backcheck proved unsuccessful at thwarting odd-man rushes, and their offense virtually silent, tallying only 5 shots at period’s end. Thus, the Islanders’s second period, and overall game for that matter, improved upon the momentum garnered from their victory at MSG this past Thursday. No question.
And to accentuate said point, Tavares’s relentless play would pay quick dividends, for approximately two and a half minutes later, on the Power Play, the surging Centerman would cap his 10th goal in 10 games with assists from Lubomir Visnovsky and the ever present and diligent Matt Moulson.
Moulson would assist in all three Tavares goals and end his night with four well-earned points himself, (scoring a minute afterward, also on the Power Play) proving, yet again, his vital importance to the Islanders as a whole, his first line, and specifically to his linemate’s success:
Once Brad Boyes catches up to the speed and talent of those with whom he shares first-line duties, the Islanders and their fans can expect similar outcomes like the one this evening in the future.
The one detail lost in the point shuffle, however, is the hustle of David Ullstrom, Matt Martin, and Michael Grabner, all three of whom played gritty, grinding, and opportunistic hockey. For me, the highlight of this side of the game came when Martin provoked Devils’s captain Bryce Salvador (the reaction stemming from a clean hit behind the Isles’s net) and Steve Bernier/Krys Barch the one receiving a penalty for Unsportsmanlike (Enticing, really) and the other for a game misconduct resulting from dropping the gloves in an attempt to fight the rugged Islander.
In all, Martin remained controlled and allowed his team to absorb the advantage, while still playing his aggressive style on both ends of the rink. As of late, Martin is opening up more for scoring chances and is becoming fiercer each game on the backcheck.
Similarly, Grabner continues his rabid pursuit of the puck, scoring the Isles’s fifth goal of the contest, off a rush of speed through the neutral zone, David Ullstrom in tow. (Upon closer inspection, the goal appears to be that of Ullstrom’s, but the point still remains.) Grabner’s speed and vision on the ice will always be a threat to any opposing team’s backcheck. When his many chances become notches, the Islanders will most definitely be a formidable foe.
But the night belonged to Mr. John Tavares, who for me, is the best New York Islander since the days of old.
Better than Alexei Yashin, Zigmund Palffy, and to a degree Pat LaFontaine, Patrick Flatley, and Brent Sutter.
Tavares’s play and that of Moulson’s remind me of Bryan Trottier and Bob Nystrom (John Tonelli?) with their ability to light the lamp and dig deep into corners to free up pucks and create scoring opportunities.
So there’s talent on the Island. Always has been; always will be. We still need a Bill Torrey-like GM to complete the puzzle now that key talent is thriving amid mediocre surroundings. We have Trottier, and perhaps our LaFontaine/Flatley, etc, maybe even our Stefan Persson in Visnovsky? Now all that’s necessary <snicker> is a Mike Bossy, a Denis Potvin, and a Billy Smith. Matt Martin has to decide if he wants to be the next Clark Gillies.
Oh, and in case you missed it, here’s JT’s hat trick:
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Bring on the Flyers.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
- Keep your ‘eyes’ on these ‘Isles’:
- Brad Boyes, who tallied two assists and is becoming much more comfortable on the wing; look for him to aggrandize his line’s scoring output.
- Brain Strait, who registered another +2 and quietly (nothing to do with intensity more than his play may also get lost in the points/overall action shuffle) goes about being the better defensemen on the Isles’s squad
- David Ullstrom, who ebbs and flows every now-and-again, but is bound to click and have a breakout season very soon
- Michael Grabner, who finds ways to annoy opposing PP units and makes everyone nervous on breakaways, Islanders included. Yes, he needs to finish his plays, but sometimes it’s just ill-luck (bouncing pucks, hooks, trips, etc.) Whatever the case, Grabs is such a delight to watch, for his play makes for compelling hockey.
- You like Moulson’s new ‘office’? He’s a damn statue in front of the other team’s net. Gretzky behind the net, Moulson in front.
- John Tavares is tied for a league-leading 11 goals, and now has 20 points to his credit. He’s also on a five-game goal scoring streak. So, that’s 14 GP with 11 Gs. Dare you to deny that he’s one of the best, if not THE BEST forward in hockey. Consider, if you will, his ailing franchise and the lack of help he’s had in the past, his improvement on the forecheck, his age (22), and you’d be hard-pressed to argue the contrary. Good day to you.