Throughout his career with the Islanders, Matt Moulson’s goals have typically fallen into three bread-and-butter categories: They start with #26 battling a cluster of defenders in front of the net, and end with him either scoring on a pretty set-up from John Tavares, a deflected shot from the point or on a gritty rebound.
While Moulson continues to do those things as well as ever, his offensive contributions have taken on even more forms. The three-time 30-goal scorer has 16 assists through 26 games – a much higher pace than he’s ever had during his six-year NHL career – and is totaling more than a point per game.
The never-satisfied Moulson deflects credit for the increased assist totals to his line mates.
“I think it’s probably just a testament to those guys getting to good spots to get pucks and getting open – them being smart. I don’t know that my vision has gotten better. I’m still pretty focused on the net when I’m in close.”
While pretty seam passes and creative odd-man rushes with line mates Tavares and Brad Boyes have upped Moulson’s assist and point totals, he still credits a “shoot first” approach for the line’s success.
“You see throughout the NHL how many chances are created just by putting pucks at the net,” Moulson said. “Sometimes you see goals go in on bounces, and if they don’t go in, there’s usually a rebound. You create a little bit of chaos when you throw it to the net.”
Tavares and Moulson are both in the top-6 of the NHL in shots on goal, and of those players, the two Islanders have the highest shooting percentages (Tavares at 16.0% on 100 shots, Moulson at 11.8% on 93 shots).
Tavares says a big part of the reason he has 16 goals in 26 games, on pace for 50 during a regular 82-game season, is not only his winger’s willingness to shoot pucks at the net, but also his ability to keep goaltenders off-balance by making the unselfish pass.
“Mouls creates a lot of rebound opportunities and is good behind the net as well, finding guys,” Tavares said. “We’re trying to be tough to play against and not easy to read. Teams know he’s great in front and I like to move the puck. But we try to keep them guessing by changing it up and I think that’s how we’ve been successful.”
Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano has been pleased with the offensive contributions his top line has made, accounting for 33 of the team’s 77 goals this season.
“I just think they play within the framework of how we want to play,” Capuano said. “The guys who do that are going to get results. I hope Matt continues to shoot the puck. He’s been a pure scorer since before we brought him in a few years ago. But he’s developed that hockey sense to know when there’s other people available. He’s a point producer as well as an assist guy.”
Moulson has tallied 30 goals in each of the past three seasons, and while he probably won’t eclipse the 30-goal mark in a shortened 48-game season, his goal output is on the same pace it has been. He’s also been even more dangerous on the power play, where he is tied for third in the league (along with Tavares) with seven markers.
The 29-year-old winger says the same things that work for him during 5-on-5 play are magnified on the man advantage.
“All the power plays that have been successful – I don’t think any of them are pretty power plays,” Moulson said. “It’s about getting guys open for shots and getting guys up front and outnumbering them near the net. That’s a big thing – jumping on rebounds and being tenacious when you’re in close. We have guys on the point who do a good job of getting the puck to the net, and it’s up to the guys at the net to capitalize.”
The Islanders rank seventh in the league at 23.0% on the man advantage, with the trio of Moulson, Tavares and Boyes making up 3/5 of the top power play unit. Boyes, who is also showing more offensive output than he has in five years with 21 points in 26 games, says the time they spend together during 5-on-4s helps with their chemistry during even strength situations.
“When things aren’t going for us 5-on-5, we can handle the puck on the power play, get things going and chip in that way,” Boyes said. “Each one of us brings something different to that line – that’s why I think we complement each other well. We’ve been able to read off each other.”
Although the trio’s chemistry has shown up in bunches on the scoreboard, Tavares believes they can be even better, targeting consistency as a main area for improvement. Moulson has eight multi-point outings, but the Islanders are 1-7-2 in games in which he doesn’t find the score sheet.
“It’s about trying to do the right things,” Tavares said. “I think we still haven’t played our best hockey. We’ve had some good games and done well but I know we can still be a lot better and more consistent. I feel there’s a ton of room for improvement.”
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