The New York Islanders signed John Tavares to a six-year contract extension last month. He's wasting little time showing why the team was willing to make such a big commitment.
The first player chosen in the 2009 Entry Draft three goals and added an assist for his second straight four-point game to lead the Islanders to their third consecutive victory, a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Tavares assisted on Matt Moulson's first-period goal, then scored power-play goals in the second and third periods before sliding one into the empty net with 1:08 left in regulation to complete his hat trick. The three goals were one more than Tavares had scored against the Rangers in his first two seasons.
Tavares has five goals and eight points in the Isles' last two games. He's the first Islander since Robert Reichel in March 1997 to have back-to-back four-point games.
"When Johnny's going well, he makes the people around him better," coach Jack Capuano said. "All his goals have come from the hash marks in. The guys on our team should take a lesson from that."
Tavares, who had two goals and two assists on Thursday, put the Islanders ahead to stay at 3:30 of the third period with a perfect power-play deflection of Mark Streit's slap pass from straightaway after Dan Girardi was called for interference.
Evgeni Nabokov, playing in his first NHL game since the 2010 playoffs with San Jose, looked sharp while stopping 29 of 31 shots. Al Montoya started the Islanders' first three games in goal, and Nabokov got the nod one day after goalie Rick DiPietro was diagnosed with a concussion.
Nabokov suited up for the Islanders after declining to join the team last season after being claimed on waivers following a stint in Russia's KHL.
"It was a boost to play in front of a packed house," Nabokov said of the full house of 16,234 at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Rangers, who hadn't played since a 2-1 shootout loss to Anaheim last Saturday in the second of their two games in Stockholm as part of the Compuware NHL Premiere series, fell to 0-1-2. They head for Western Canada and a four-game road trip before finally playing their home opener at the renovated Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27.
But Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't in the mood to hear any excuses about playing in Europe or being off for a week after his team surrendered eight power plays, two of which turned into goals by Tavares, and was outplayed for much of the night.
"There (are) no excuses here," an agitated Tortorella 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."
Matt Moulson put the Islanders ahead at 12:04 of the opening period, picking up a deflected pass by Tavares and snapping a shot from the slot past Henrik Lundqvist's stick.
The Rangers killed a pair of power plays early in the second period, then made the Islanders pay for a center-ice turnover when Brad Richards sprung Marian Gaborik in alone between the defense. Gaborik zipped a 15-footer past Nabokov at 6:23 to tie the score at 1-1.
Lundqvist robbed Tavares during a 5-on-3 power play, but Tavares got even moments later during the 5-on-4 advantage when he backhanded the rebound of Streit's shot between Lundqvist's legs at 11:47 for a 2-1 lead.
The Rangers forechecked well in the final minutes of the period and were rewarded at 18:26 when Brandon Prust wheeled around the net, came out to Nabokov's left and backhanded the puck into the crease, where it hit Islanders center Frans Nielsen's skate and went into the net to tie the score.
Tavares put the Islanders ahead to stay when he set up in the high slot for a perfect deflection of Streit's slap pass.
After starting the season with four straight home games, the Isles hit the road for the first time when they visit Tampa Bay on Thursday and Florida on Saturday.
"We're probably ready for a good trip," Tavares said. "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."
With four more road games before they get to come home, Lundqvist said the Rangers can't afford the lack of discipline they showed Saturday.
"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," he said. "We have to work even harder to be more disciplined out there."
Material from team media was used in this report