Sunday, October 16, 2011

Round One: Tavares hat trick TKO's Rangers

John Tavares' hat trick victimized Marian Gaborik during the Isles' 4-2 win.

Round One was a TKO by John Tavares. Led by the third-year star, the Islanders won the first big match-up between blood rivals- doubling up on the Rangers 4-2 last night at energized Nassau Coliseum. In what amounted to an entertaining, rambunctious and in your face brand of hockey one comes to expect when these New York rivals get together, it was Long Island prevailing over Manhattan thanks to another offensive explosion from Tavares. After being shutout the first two games, the blossoming superstar has eight points over the past two, including his first hat trick of the season along with a helper- factoring in on every Islander goal.

"You're not going to say no to production like that. It's nice to produce. It's what I do best, obviously," Tavares pointed out of his second straight four-point outing. 

"I still see him as a goofy kid. But he's committed to being one of the best players in the league," teammate Matt Moulson praised after notching a goal and assist in the Islanders' third consecutive win. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. When he does that, he can be a scary player. And he's only going to get better once he matures and understands what he's capable of."

Aided by a slew of undisciplined Ranger penalties, Tavares and Co. had no trouble taking full advantage, going two-for-eight. That proved to be the difference with Jack Capuano's club remaining poised unlike their nemesis. Conversely, John Tortorella's team went blank in four chances while drawing the ire of an impatient coach who is tired of using Europe as an alibi for their slow start.

“There is no excuses here,” the displeased Ranger coach 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.”

Twice, the road team fought back from one-goal deficits during the first two periods. However, more penalty trouble eventually led to Tavares' winner, which came just seven seconds after Dan Girardi was nabbed for interference. Off a faceoff win, JT91 slipped to the left in the high slot where Islander captain Mark Streit passed through for a ridiculous deflection that Henrik Lundqvist had no chance on. It was the kind of hand eye coordination that makes the franchise player special. Along with improved skating, strength and conditioning, the 21-year old center looks poised for a big year. Similar skill was required on his first power play goal of the night midway thru. With Ryan Callahan out of the box, the Isles still were on the man-advantage thanks to a dubious delay of game call on Brian Boyle. Regardless, Tavares made them pay when he backhanded a low Streit rebound in for his first of the game.

Earlier, Tavares helped set up Moulson's opener off a Ranger turnover. He and P.A. Parenteau combined on a broken play that allowed Moulson to use Steve Eminger as a perfect screen for his second of the season at 12:04 of the first. Before they could get comfortable, the Rangers responded with better even strength play- forcing Evgeni Nabokov to make some tough stops in a busy first (14 saves). Somehow, the Blueshirts survived a loss of discipline that included a bench minor and a foolish Callahan boarding minor which wasn't smart. A great play by Derek Stepan allowed Marian Gaborik to tie it. Moved up to the top line, the sophomore out of Wisconsin made a great backcheck in the neutral zone and then Brad Richards sprung Gaborik, who easily beat Nabokov five-hold to knot it at one. The play of Stepan was one of the bright spots with a backhand lead nearly setting up another Gaborik tally only to see Nabokov deny his backhand deke later.

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,” an observant Lundqvist noted after playing a third straight solid game but having nothing to show for it. King Henrik finished with 30 saves. “We have to work even harder to be more disciplined out there.

A turning point came when Boyle was called for delay of game while on the PK. During Callahan's second minor of the seesaw contest, Boyle killed off 15 seconds without ever closing his hand on the puck. However, ref Steve Kozari felt differently at the urging of the hometown fans amidst a mixture at a soldout (16,234) Coliseum. Despite the Ranger captain returning, they couldn't deny Tavares, who along with Streit and ex-Devil Brian Rolston combined for a 2-1 lead. With Lundqvist busy (13 saves) keeping his team afloat, the reunited checking line of Boyle, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko got it tied before the second concluded. Off a forced turnover from Fedotenko, Prust quickly steered a wraparound off Frans Nielsen's skate past a stunned Nabokov to tie it at 18:26.

Oddly enough, it was Nielsen's acting skills which later helped the Islanders kill off a valuable two minutes late in regulation. Prior, Tavares already had No.2 off a great redirection with Girardi off. The Rangers have run into penalty trouble without anchor Marc Staal. They also were without Mike Sauer with ex-Hab Jeff Woywitka faring alright in an abbreviated role (12:27). That forced Tortorella to pair up Mike Del Zotto with rookie Tim Erixon, who was up and down along with his partner. The Swede is still learning. He took a minor and also passed up on two good chances to shoot. Del Zotto meanwhile was more aggressive offensively but is still shaky in his end. 

Meanwhile, the Isles got strong play from Andrew MacDonald, who made several solid defensive plays along with Travis Hamonic. That along with better control allowed the hosts to earn a hard fought victory. They neutralized the Draft Line of Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky with only Anisimov pulling his weight. Ineffective nights from two of the Ranger leaders forced Tortorella to go with the top line and Boyle's down the stretch. It didn't matter when a turnover led to Parenteau finding Tavares, who hit the open net for his third career hat trick, sending everyone home. 

“We’re probably ready for a good trip,” Tavares said after leading his club to a 3-1 homestand before they head to Florida for two games versus the Lightning and Panthers. “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.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (2 SOG, 3 hits, takeaway in 18:36)
2nd Star-Mark Streit, NYI (2 primary assists, 3 SOG in 24:50)
1st Star-John Tavares, NYI (1st hat trick of season/assist, 3rd career, +2 in 17:29)

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