Ryan Vesce said he was a New York Rangers fan despite growing up on Long Island.
The Lloyd Harbor, N.Y., native found a way to stick it to his childhood’s team’s biggest rival, making his first NHL goal a winning tally to help the San Jose Sharks beat the New York Islanders 4-1 on Saturday night.
Joe Thornton had a power-play goal and two assists, and San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov made 31 saves in his 500th NHL game as the Sharks (4-3-1) snapped a two-game losing streak.
Thornton assisted on San Jose’s first two goals to extend his league-leading total to 11. Vesce and Patrick Marleau started the stretch of four unanswered goals with second-period scores.
“We have some skilled guys, and when we execute we’re pretty hard to handle,” Thornton said.
The Islanders are still looking for their first victory of the season (0-3-3). Matt Moulson registered his team-leading fourth goal with a first-period, power-play tally.
After earning points in its first three games, New York has lost the last three in regulation and is off to its worst start since 1973. Islanders goalie Martin Biron (25 saves) still needs one win for 200 in the NHL.
New York and Toronto are the only remaining winless NHL teams.
“They have some big offensive guys and we allowed them to dictate the play,” Biron said.
The Islanders fired 19 first-period shots but got off just 12 in the final two frames. San Jose drew all three of its power-play chances in the second and third periods, resulting in two goals with the extra man.
“They, after the first period, came out and were a lot more disciplined with getting back to their zone and putting back-pressure on the puck,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “Our response to that was to not get pucks to the net.”
Down 1-0 entering the second, San Jose responded with a power-play goal 7:50 into the period when Marleau ripped a backhand from the bottom of the right circle past Biron. Thornton earned the primary assist, sending a crisp pass onto Marleau’s stick.
Thornton’s skating created San Jose’s second goal. He pressured defenceman Radek Martinek behind the Islanders net before he fell. Thornton pushed the loose puck in front, and an undefended Vesce knocked it in with 3:36 left in the period.
“It’s something I’ll always remember,” said Vesce, whose parents were in the stands. “(Thornton) forechecked, knocked him down, stole the puck and threw it out front. I found myself alone with the goalie and tried to fake him and it went in.”
Vesce, born 40 minutes away from Nassau Coliseum, played high school hockey on Long Island. The 27-year-old former Cornell standout netted his first goal in his 11th NHL game.
“I just want to keep getting better and earn a spot here,” Vesce said.
Thornton provided insurance just 37 seconds into the third. The six-time all-star slammed a hard shot just inside the blue-line for his second goal. Devin Setoguchi scored his fifth at 13:55 to make it 4-1.
San Jose improved to 1-1 on a six-game road trip against the Eastern Conference. The Sharks didn’t hold a morning skate in an attempt to recharge following a one-goal output in two straight losses.
Catching the Islanders on a second night of back-to-backs, the Sharks found a rhythm in the second period.
“When you have a team that’s played the night before, you’d better take advantage of it,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “They were certainly skating circles around us in the first period. As the night wore on, we found our legs and took advantage.”
The Islanders seized the early momentum before losing for the third time at home. Moulson deflected Kyle Okposo’s shot past Nabokov for a power-play goal to open the scoring 15:12 in.
New York held a 19-8 shots advantage through the opening 20 minutes.
“Our legs were a little stale in the first period and they skated really well,” Thornton said. “But we have a world-class goalie and he kept us in it and allowed us to come back in the game.”
John Tavares recorded an assist, giving the 19-year-old No. 1 pick points in five of the Islanders’ first six games.
NOTES: The Islanders are off to the second-worst start in franchise history. Only the 1973-74 team got a slower break out of the gate, starting 0-3-4. … Moulson entered the season with six career goals over parts of two seasons but is already one away from tying his career high. … San Jose scored multiple power-play goals for the second time. The Sharks went 4 for 4 with the extra man in an Oct. 6 loss to Los Angeles. … Thornton notched at least three assists in a game for the third time.