UNIONDALE, N.Y. – John Tavares is trying to change the perception of the once-beleaguered New York Islanders.
Tavares scored three goals and assisted on another Saturday night to lead the Islanders to a 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
“I think any great player puts a lot of responsibility on (themselves) because they want to lead (their) team,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. “To me, an elite player is someone you watch night in and night out, and your coaches prepare for in your pre-scout. You’re looking at 91 (Tavares).
“I’m sure teams are doing the same thing as we do with (Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven) Stamkos and some of the other players in the league.”
Matt Moulson had a goal and three assists, Michael Grabner scored with 35 seconds left, and Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves for the Islanders, who beat the Rangers 4-3 in a shootout Thursday night.
“Just two games. Don’t want to blow it out of proportion,” Josh Bailey said. “Want to keep it rolling.”
Tavares, who notched his fourth career hat trick, has 20 points in 14 games. Moulson finished with four points, and Brad Boyes had two assists. Tavares is tied with Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek and Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal for the league lead with 11 goals.
“I think ever since I was a kid, my main attribute (has been to) be a goal scorer,” Tavares said. “Not that I go out there and think about leading the league in goals, but when I get my opportunities, I want to contribute. And I know offensively, that’s where I contribute the most. Just trying to, when I get my chances, put the puck in.”
The Devils’ lone goal was Marek Zidlicky’s power-play slap shot 8:47 into the third. Johan Hedberg made 28 saves for New Jersey, which has lost two of its last three.
“What, first place (in the Eastern Conference)?” New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said sarcastically when he was asked if he was worried about the losses. “No one likes to lose, but you’re going to lose some games. There (are) no easy stretches this season and we’re going to bounce back Monday afternoon (at home against the Ottawa Senators).”
Tavares’ tap-in of Boyes’ rebound opened the scoring 16:46 into the second. Hedberg couldn’t control Boyes’ wrister and Tavares slammed the loose puck into the half-empty net.
Tavares doubled the lead to 2-0 1:23 later with his second of the game and 10th of the season. With New York on a power play, Tavares and Moulson played give-and-go, and the sequence ended with Tavares jamming a loose puck under Hedberg.
Moulson pushed the Islanders’ advantage to 3-0 57 seconds later with his seventh of the season. Tavares finished off his hat trick by zipping a power-play laser over Hedberg with 5:15 left in regulation.
It was a tightly contested goaltending showdown early. Hedberg robbed Boyes 1:06 into the game with a diving snare of an off-wing wrister. He also benefited from a bit of good fortune as Ullstrom’s backhand penalty shot attempt with 3:15 left in the first hit the crossbar.
“Heddy (played) an unbelievable game,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. “He comes out and does what he does. He gave us a chance to win. He made some big saves and we just kind of let down in front of him.”
Nabokov was every bit Hedberg’s counterpart’s equal. His most difficult save was a doorstep stuff attempt off the stick of Ryan Carter in the first period.
“I thought we had some breakdowns in the first period (and) he was there to close the door,” Capuano said of Nabakov. “He played extremely well. I don’t know a lot about that position, but I know he was aggressive tonight and his angles were good. He was square to the puck.”
New York went 3 for 6 on the power play, while New Jersey was 1 for 4 on the man advantage.
“Bottom line, our (penalty kill) wasn’t good enough. That’s the difference in the game,” Salvador said. “Our PK wasn’t sharp. Usually, PKs are our strength. They got a couple big power-play goals, bottom line. If our PK does the job, it’s a different game. The Islanders thrive on the special teams and our PK just wasn’t up to it tonight.
“In a game like tonight, our PK has to come out and do the job and we didn’t get it done.”
NOTES: The announced attendance was 15,488. … The teams have split the first four games of the regular-season series. They will meet once more this season, at the Prudential Center on April 1. … Tavares’ first goal ended Hedberg’s shutout streak against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum this season at 96:46. … New Jersey scratched Mark Fayne, Peter Harrold and Stefan Matteau. Eric Boulton, Thomas Hickey and Marty Reasoner were New York’s scratches.