Rookie forward Michael Grabner stole the spotlight once again. He netted two goals in regulation and then added a third (for his first hat trick in a New York Islanders jersey) 2:55 into the overtime period. That goal gave the Islanders their third straight win, stealing a 7-6 victory out from under the Buffalo Sabres.
“From a coaching standpoint, it was an emotional game after the Pittsburgh game,” Capuano said. “We thought there was going to be a little bit of a letdown. We didn’t know how they were going to come out. But it was a seesaw game at the start and we found a way to get it done. That’s what counts.”
With 24 goals this season, Grabner now holds the team-lead; those goals also tie him at first place on the National Hockey League’s rookie goal scoring leader chart with Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks.
Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders celebrates after scoring his game winning overtime goal, and third of the game, against Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on February 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jen Fuller/NHLI via Getty Images)
“You have to be a complete player to play in the National Hockey League,” Capuano said. “You have to be able to play in all three zones, with and without the puck. What kind of decision you have and your discipline when you have the puck. He’s doing those things and when you do those things they lead to opportunities on the other end.”
Grabner said he’s changed from the beginning of the season and that’s what’s giving him all the success he’s had lately.
“I just make up my mind a little earlier,” Grabner said. “I’m getting a little more comfortable. I take a half of a second to think about what I’m going to do and at the beginning of the year I was a little too nervous, gripping my stick a little too tight.”
Grabner helped the Islanders to a 1-0 lead when he scored the first goal of the game just 40 seconds after the opening faceoff. His second goal came 3:00 into the third period, tying the score with the Sabres for the fourth time. But it was his overtime breakaway that helped the Islanders to the win.
Starting in the defensive zone, Kyle Okposo made a clear pass through the neutral zone to Grabner standing on the Sabres blue line. Then, the rookie forward deked Andrej Sekera as he faked left and then went on to shoot blocker side past goaltender Ryan Miller.
“He’s scoring goals,” Capuano said. “He’s getting chances, but he’s the one that’s putting the puck in the net. Great poise on the first goal to go around the net and the shot of the post (on the second goal) and using his speed on the third one.”
But Grabner wasn’t the only player to record a hat trick in Sunday’s matinee at HSBC Arena. Drew Stafford, of the Sabres, scored two goals in the first period (7:42 and 17:39). He then tallied the team’s sixth goal at 13:19 of the third to tie the score for the final time and send the game into overtime.
After Capuano pulled Mikko Koskinen from the net 4:31 into the second frame, Al Montoya made 12 saves during 38:06 of play to record his first win while wearing an Islanders jersey.
“We just needed a little bit of a spark,” Capuano said. “Mikko was playing well in the last two games and it was just one of those things where you go with what you have sometimes. (Montoya) came in and he made some big saves. The couple goals were tough goals. He was screened and then the rebound. It’s nice for him to get his first win.”
Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres stops a second period shot taken by Milan Jurcina #27 of the New York Islanders at HSBC Arena on February 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
After Grabner’s first goal, Jochen Hecht scored at 6:46 of the first to tie the score at one. Stafford then scored his first goal of the contest and Islanders forward John Tavares netted his 21st goal this season (12:49) to tie the score for the second time.
Stafford closed out the first period with a goal at 17:39 and Nathan Gerbe netted a goal 4:31 into the second period to send the Sabres ahead 4-2. But a tally from Blake Comeau with 18:55 left in the second period closed the gap 4-3.
That’s when Grabner netted his second goal of the game to even the score at four, but Tyler Myers scored at 5:26 to send the Sabres ahead 5-4. Then two power play goals from Islanders defensemen gave the Islanders their second lead of the game (6-5) as Milan Jurcina tallied a goal at 11:32 and Ty Wishart scored at 12:48.
The Islanders have now won three straight games. They will look to continue that streak when they face the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday night.