On Saturday afternoon, the New York Islanders defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in a matinee full of milestones. In his 100th career NHL game, defenseman Andrew MacDonald recorded the first two-goal game of his career; and John Tavares’ first period goal and assist lifted the 2009 first overall draft pick past his freshman season of 54 points, defying the notion of a sophomore slump.
While pleased to have passed his point mark from last season, Tavares was full of appreciation for the team’s top blueliner.
“He is a heart and soul kind of guy,” Tavares said. “He doesn’t always make the highlights for scoring goals like he did tonight, but he blocks a ton of shots and takes a lot of hits. He’s great at escaping pressure and moving the puck up to the forwards and getting us on the attack. Things like that, he’s tremendous on. He’s a huge leader in the locker room. He really stabilizes us back there (on the blueline).”
MacDonald returned the praise.
“Obviously, (Tavares) is the number one overall pick for a reason,” MacDonald said. “His agility and his side-to-side movement are right up there with the other top players in the league. He made two guys bite on those moves, he finished it off and (he scored) a great goal.”
To give Tavares the opportunity, defenseman Travis Hamonic passed the puck along the boards through the neutral zone to PA Parenteau. The Isles winger backhanded a puck to Tavares in the high slot and the Isles center then weaved through St. Louis’ defensmen, sliding the puck past goaltender Ben Bishop to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 9:12 of the first stanza.
John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders controls the puck as he's being pursued by Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues on March 5, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Islanders defeat the Blues 5-2. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“It was pretty nifty,” MacDonald said. “I think PA (Parenteau) did a great job of getting him the puck. He looked like he ran out of real estate along the wall. He was on his last life on the back hand and he threaded a pass to Johnny (Tavares).”
With 51 seconds remaining in the first period, Tavares sent Michael Grabner and Parenteau on a 2-on-1 through the offensive zone. Grabner was patient and as he waited for Barret Jackman to slide and for Bishop to commit, the Isles rookie passed to Parenteau at the paint for a one-timer, which brought the Islanders ahead 2-0.
Parenteau was happy to get that goal. Earlier in the period, Bishop came out to the blueline to try to cut off Parenteau’s breakaway and the Islanders forward completely missed a goal on a wide open net.
“It was a tough one,” Parenteau said. “I saw Bishop come out of the net; I don’t know why he came out so early. There is no excuse for missing that kind of opportunity, you don’t get those often. I shook it off and I scored a goal, so that feels good.”
In the second stanza, Matt Martin recovered a puck down low and passed to MacDonald on the blueline. The defenseman found the open space and took a slapshot, deflecting off the crossbar and into the goal at 12:29. The goal was MacDonald’s second goal in two games and his third of the season.
“(MacDonald) has been a guy that we can rely on back there,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “He gives us a ton of minutes and he’s become a leader for our team.”
Capuano continued, “We want to see all of defense take a more offensive role. That’s part of our system that we want to play. (MacDonald) has had the opportunities. He just hasn’t been capitalizing on some of them. It was good to see him today getting the two.”
MacDonald scored his second goal of the night during the third period. He stole the puck from Andy McDonald of the Blues in the Isles defensive zone and earned a breakaway. As he rushed down ice, Barret Jackman raced to stop MacDonald, but he wristed the puck before getting tripped up and the puck lifted high glove side past Bishop at 6:22.
Even though MacDonald he made the breakaway look easy, he didn’t have that feeling of confidence.
“I think that was honestly the first breakaway of my life,” MacDonald said. “I knew there was a guy coming from my right. I looked up as I was pushing the puck and I just tried to get the shot off without stick handling. Luckily it went in.”
Andrew MacDonald #47 of the New York Islanders celebrates his second goal of the game against the St. Louis Blues at the Nassau Coliseum on March 5, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
At 12:25, Grabner scored the final goal of the contest. Jack Hillen freed the puck from the defensive zone and sent Grabner along with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen on an odd man rush down ice. Nielsen passed to Grabner, who used a last burst of speed to skate past Alex Pietrangeo for a breakaway and a shot that went five-hole past Bishop.
St. Louis’ Andy McDonald scored at 3:26 of the third to put the Blues on the board 3-1 and Chris Stewart scored a power play goal at 10:18 to cut it to, 4-2.
Montoya made 21 saves to earn his fifth win in his eighth start. There’s a good chance that he’ll be in net for tomorrow’s matinee with the New Jersey Devils, but in the end, the Islanders are just happy to be two points closer to their playoff dreams.
“Sometimes it’s tough when you see a team from the other conference that you might see only once a year,” MacDonald said. “Sometimes it’s a feeling out process, but both teams came out pretty hard, chipping pucks in deep and trying to get behind the defense. It was a battle. Every time they got the puck they chipped it in. It’s exhausting as a defenseman to have to go back every time. Both teams came out hard. It’s obviously a good win for us because we don’t see them very often, so it’s nice to get those two points.”