VANCOUVER, B.C. – John Tavares broke out of his prolonged scoring slump in a big way Tuesday night.
The Islanders rookie scored two goals and added three assists as New York downed the Vancouver Canucks 5-2.
Tavares, the first pick in last summer’s draft, burst into the NHL with rookie-of-the-year expectations after 15 goals and 27 points in his first 32 games.
But prior to Tuesday’s game, the 19-year-old had produced just nine points in his last 37 games and only one goal in the last 22.
“I proved myself early in the year, offensively for sure, but overall I think my game has come a long way,” said Tavares. “I felt I’ve been playing well the last few weeks, but it’s nice when you can contribute and make a real big difference.”
Fellow rookie Dylan Reese, with his first NHL goal, Matt Moulson and Freddy Meyer also scored for the Islanders (29-32-9), while Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves.
With the win, New York ended Vancouver’s home winning streak at seven games in front of 18,810 at GM Place.
Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burrows replied for the Canucks (43-24-3) with goals two minutes apart in the second period.
“It felt good beating a team like this in their own building,” said Tavares. “It’s a tough place to play, they’re one of the best teams in the league and we’re fighting for our playoff lives.”
Tavares scored his second into an empty net with 2:20 to make it 5-2 and Isles coach Scott Gordon said he was not surprised by his prized rookie’s strong showing.
“To me, it was inevitable,” said Gordon. “A guy can’t get that many opportunities and not be able to cash in. You’re going to eventually.”
Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has struggled since he backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal, was pulled after a second period in which he allowed two goals on only four shots. He stopped eight of 12 shots overall as the Canucks outshot the Islanders 37-20 on the night, but trailed 2-0 after the first period and 4-2 after the second.
“It was very disappointing,” said Luongo. “I think we came into the game and we weren’t really respecting the opposition and they came out strong, they made some plays, and next thing you know it’s 2-0. Obviously we’ve come back before but like we said it’s not going to happen every game.”
After Reese and Tavares, on a power play, put New York ahead after the first, Moulson gave the Islanders 3-0 at 15:30 of the second, tipping in a Tavares backhand pass through the crease.
Wellwood and Burrows reduced Vancouver’s deficit to 3-2 with goals two minutes apart, but Meyer put the Islanders ahead 4-2 with only eight seconds left in the second as a Tavares shot went in off his leg.
That effectively ended Luongo’s night as backup Andrew Raycroft came in for the third.
“That fourth goal was obviously in my mind the turning point of the game,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. “We were battling back. We had a good second period and they got a fortuitous bounce for that goal and I just thought that it’s time to make a change.”
Notes: Blake Comeau recorded his 12th point in nine games as he assisted on Tavares’ first goal. … Reese, a 25-year-old from Pittsburgh, scored in only his seventh career game after spending five full seasons in the minors. … Vancouver lost winger Mikael Samuelsson in the third to an undisclosed injury. … The Canucks suffered their first home loss to an Eastern Conference team this season. It was only their fifth loss in 19 games against Eastern clubs. … Tanner Glass returned to the Canucks lineup after sitting out the past two games as a healthy scratch. Fellow winger Darcy Hordichuk was dispatched to the press box. D Shane O’Brien sat out his third straight game. … Vancouver F Rick Rypien played his 100th NHL game. … Gordon was an assistant with the silver-medal winning U.S. men’s Olympic team.