When the Florida Panthers pulled Tomas Vokoun with more than three minutes left to play in the third period, it significantly increased the chances that Matt Moulson would be able to net his third goal of the contest. So it wasn’t too surprising when the forward scored on a shot from the neutral zone at 17:23, he lifted the Islanders to a 5-1 win, and earned the second hat trick of his career (Dec 3, 2009 against Atlanta).
“They’re doing the right things,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “When you do the right things, you get rewarded. The guys are playing within the guidelines we’re giving them. They’re shooting pucks. I think tonight they had over 35 shots tonight. Good things happen when you get pucks on net.”
With 44 goals in 11 games, the Islanders have been on a hot scoring streak and have now lifted their record to 8-3-0 in the month of February. And Moulson has scored four goals in the last two games, taking over Michael Grabner (25) for the team lead in goals with 26. John Tavares is a close third with 23 goals.
Those totals make the Islanders one of the only teams in the National Hockey League with three players to have that many goals (74) - good for the fourth most in the NHL.
“I think it says a lot about this team as a whole and how we’ve been playing,” Moulson said. “I think we’ve been doing a great job all around. Our defense has been playing great, our goalie has been playing great. We’ve been sticking to our game plan of getting pucks in, getting a good forecheck, and that leads to goals. It doesn’t hurt that Grabs is the fastest guys on skates, so it makes it easier for him.”
Moulson said that those point totals have also stemmed some healthy competition among the teammates.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” Moulson said. “We don’t really talk about it, but it is that kind of healthy competition I guess. Guys want to score. Guys want to score to get wins for this team, so it’s always a good thing when guys want to get goals for wins.”
Moulson’s first two goals set the tone early for the Isles. As they held the Panthers to just three shots on goal in the first period, the Islanders top line had more than just a few opportunities to net the puck, but at 7:40, John Tavares did the grunt work to get the puck into the offensive zone and made a short pass to Moulson out front of the crease to shoot the puck and have it trickle through Vokoun’s legs (his first of the night).
His second of the afternoon, at 14:58, was gorgeous. PA Parenteau brought the puck in through the neutral zone and passed to Moulson at the left faceoff dot for a one-timer from his knee. As the puck lifted, it deflected off the cross bar into the net top shelf, past Tomas Vokoun glove side.
As a result, Moulson attributed his success to his linemates performance.
“My linemates made some great plays out there,” Moulson said. “Obviously, on the first one, Johnny (Tavares) made a great pass while battling. PA (Parenteau) made a great play on the second one. I didn’t have to do too much for them today, then with the empty net. It was three kind of easy ones.”
The Islanders were able to keep the Panthers off the score sheet until 10:34 of final stanza. Mike Santorelli netted a power play goal to bring the score to 4-1.
After taking an elbow from Stephen Weiss at 15:40 of the first period, defenseman Radek Martinek got even when he scored a power play goal just 37 seconds into the second period, establishing a 3-0 lead for the Isles. He was set up beautifully for a slapshot from the blueline that seemed to completely surprise Vokoun.
“What’s tough to me is taking a hit to make a play, and that’s what he (Martinek) did along the wall there,” Capuano said. “I’m sure Weiss’s history shows he’s not that kind of player obviously. Marty got a good shot off there to the net that came off their player’s pad and goes in the net. He played extremely well tonight.”
Kyle Okposo #21 and Radek Martinek #24 of the New York Islanders celebrate a goal by Martinek during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers at the Nassau Coliseum on February 21, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Martinek reinforced how much buzz there is around the team right now.
“I’m so happy with how we’re playing,” Martinek said. “It’s so much fun. Everybody is doing their jobs. Everybody is making the right plays, scoring goals, not giving up goals. It’s so much fun.”
At 6:41 of the second, centerman Josh Bailey went one-on-one with Bryan Allen and as the defenseman slid to block the first shot, Bailey recovered his own shot, caught Vokoun out of position and sent the puck top right corner, bringing the Isles ahead 4-0.
“I’m happy with the way things have been going the last six or seven games,” Bailey said. “Things are clicking right now, and hopefully I can stay that way for the rest of the year.”
The win also closed the point differential (in the Eastern Conference standings) with Florida, as well as the Toronoto Maple Leafs, from six points to four. The Islanders will complete their 14th set of back-to-back games when they face the Leafs on Tuesday night in Toronto.
One Islander looking forward to the trip is Bailey.
“It’s obviously pretty special,” Bailey said about playing so close to his hometown of Bowmanville, Ontario. “I still remember the first time playing there, even the morning skate. It was a pretty big wow factor (because) growing up, watching all the Leaf games and what not. There’s always a lot of family and a lot of friends watching so it’s pretty special.”