Brendan Witt was already having the game of his life when chants of his name echoed around Nassau Coliseum.
The hard-hitting defenceman had two goals in the bank when fans clamoured for more in the final minute of the New York Islanders’ 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. The net at the other end was empty, and Witt had a chance at a most-improbable hat trick. He had to settle for two goals, which was twice as many as he scored in his previous 861 NHL games.
“It would’ve been nice, but whatever,” Witt said.
Witt’s unexpected outburst and two assists from captain Doug Weight were enough to stretch the Islanders’ winning streak to a season-high four games.
Dwayne Roloson played well in stopping 22 shots against his former team, and New York didn’t give up any power-play chances to the Oilers.
“It’s easier when you’re winning, but we want to remind ourselves that we can’t get away from what made us successful – it’s hard work,” Witt said.
Witt, in his 14th NHL season, scored twice in the second period. He has netted only 25 goals in his career and had gone 92 contests since his previous tally on Jan. 22, 2008, at Carolina.
The 38-year-old Weight helped set up rookie John Tavares’ first-period goal that lifted the Islanders into a 1-1 tie and he earned another assist on Witt’s second that made it 3-1.
New York lost its first six games (0-3-3) but has gone 5-1-2 since to get into shouting range of the rest of the Atlantic Division. Roloson, in his first Islanders season, improved to 4-0-1 in his past five starts.
“The guys have been on the same page now for a little bit and we’re starting to see some results,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “I don’t think that we’ve changed a ton of how we’ve played, but I think that the team has a lot of confidence.”
Witt scored from an odd angle along the left wing boards when he flipped a puck that found its way through a maze and past Nikolai Khabibulin 2:32 into the second. He punctuated that goal with a fist pump and then struck again at 12:35 with a shot from just inside the blue line.
“The first one kind of caught Khabibulin … I don’t think he was ready,” Witt said. “The second one, I got fortunate. I think it went off one of their guys and beat him. You never know what happens when you throw the puck at the net.”
The flu-ridden Oilers (7-7-1) managed to grab an early lead when Ethan Moreau scored his second, but they couldn’t sustain the momentum. Edmonton has lost five of six overall and has dropped five straight on the road.
Khabibulin stopped 34 shots and lost for the third time in four games. He has played in 13 of Edmonton’s 15 games.
“We sure shoot ourselves in the foot,” Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. “We are a team that beats themselves right now.
“In the second period, we abandoned again any principles of defence in the defensive zone. If you check like that, you lose hockey games. That’s all there is to it. They played like the Harlem Globetrotters for a couple of shifts there, and they’re not even a physical team.”
The Oilers have been struggling for offence, having been shut out in three of four previous games. They got off to a quick start when Moreau, from behind the net, bounced a puck in off Islanders defenceman Radek Martinek’s skate with 8:58 left in the first.
However, getting enough pucks to the net has become a troubling trend.
“On both sides of the ice, we’re just not efficient enough,” Moreau said.
Tavares tied it 3:49 later. After the Oilers turned over the puck behind their net, Matt Moulson found Tavares with a quick pass as Tavares glided unchecked down the slot.
Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, is beginning to live up to his hype. The 19-year-old forward has five goals and 11 points in 14 games.
The Islanders played a solid, disciplined game. Andy Sutton fought charging Edmonton forward Jean-Francois Jacques in the first period. Jacques was called for instigating in retaliation for Sutton’s hard, clean check on Tom Gilbert.
Sutton’s major was the only Islanders penalty until Okposo went off for roughing in the final minute.
NOTES: New York was 0-for-4 on the power play. … Witt has three other two-point games in the NHL. This was the first since March 26, 2002, at Buffalo while with Washington. … Former Islanders C Mike Comrie sat out for the fifth time in six games because of the flu. At least five Edmonton players have been sick recently. … The Oilers hadn’t played on Long Island since Dec. 10, 2005. They haven’t won there since Dec. 14, 1999.