UNIONDALE, N.Y. – If John Tavares scores four points a night, it won’t matter much who is in goal for the New York Islanders.
For the second straight game—after being pointless for two games—Tavares broke out with four points.
This time he did it with his third NHL hat trick, including the winning goal and an empty-netter in the Islanders’ 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
Evgeni Nabokov made 29 saves in his Islanders debut and earned his first regular-season NHL win since beating Phoenix on April 10, 2010, with San Jose.
But this night belonged to the 21-year-old Tavares, who is showing what the Islanders were looking for when they chose him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
“You’re not going to say no to production like that,” Tavares said. “It’s nice to produce, it’s what I do best.”
The Islanders have won three straight following an opening-night loss and they have Tavares to thank for that.
After he had two goals and two assists in the first period of New York’s 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Thursday, Tavares roared back with a pair of go-ahead, power-play goals and an assist in front of a sellout crowd that traded cheers for both teams.
The second goal was a precision tip-in of captain Mark Streit’s shot from the blue line 3:30 into the third, completing a play that started when he won a faceoff. Linemate Matt Moulson also scored for the Islanders, who will hit the road for the first time when they play at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
“We’re probably ready for a good trip,” Tavares said. “It’s always a great way to develop chemistry. It was a huge start for us, and other than the first night we took full advantage of it.”
The Rangers had a game for the first time since going 0-0-2 in Sweden, playing for the first time in a week, and the rust showed early. The Rangers will play four games in Western Canada before their home opener at renovated Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27.
Marian Gaborik and Brandon Prust both scored tying goals in the second period for the Rangers, who were outshot 34-31. New York put itself in trouble all night by taking eight penalties.
“There is no excuses here,” agitated coach John Tortorella said. “We lost a hockey game. That team played better than us, they were more disciplined than us. I don’t want to hear about Europe, I don’t want to hear about if it’s a penalty or not a penalty. We’re not disciplined enough, and Europe has nothing to do with tonight’s game.”
The Rangers were mostly happy with their 5-on-5 play. There just wasn’t enough of it.
“There were a couple of times where we kind of took over the game, but unfortunately we took a few penalties and it kind of killed that momentum that we had,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We have to work even harder to be more disciplined out there.”
Al Montoya started the Islanders’ first three games in goal, and Nabokov got the nod against the Rangers one day after goalie Rick DiPietro was diagnosed with a concussion.
Nabokov finally suited up for the Islanders after declining to join the team last season after being claimed on waivers following a stint in Russia’s KHL.
“It was a boost to play in front of a packed house,” Nabokov said.
The momentum the Islanders generated in the first shifted to the Rangers just over 6 minutes into the second when they turned a giveaway in the neutral zone into a goal. Brad Richards, the Rangers’ prized free-agent acquisition, fired a pass from his blue line to streaking linemate Gaborik deep in the Islanders’ end.
Gaborik was all alone when he took the puck on his tape and smoothly put it past Nabokov for his second goal this season at 6:23.
Richards was given a lucrative deal from the Rangers with the hope that his playmaking skills would mesh with Gaborik’s touch. So far, so good, as Richards has assisted on both of Gaborik’s goals.
But the good fortune didn’t last for long as the Rangers couldn’t get undisciplined play out of their game.
With 56 seconds in a power play, that came shortly after thetying goal, captain Ryan Callahan was called for goalie interference.
While the Rangers were killing off that penalty, Brian Boyle went off for delay of game as he tried to keep the puck under him down in the corner.
That gave the Islanders 44 seconds of a two-man advantage, an edge they turned into the go-ahead goal while skating 5-on-4.
Tavares was denied by Lundqvist at the right post when his jam shot in tight was deflected over the glass, but he wouldn’t be kept at bay. Less than a minute later, Tavares got to a rebound and made it 2-1 at 11:47.
NOTES: The Islanders were 1 for 6 on the power play in the first 40 minutes. … Islanders LW Trevor Gillies (groin) was activated from the injured list. … D Jeff Woywitka made his debut with the Rangers in place of D Michael Sauer, who sat out because of a sprained right shoulder.