GLENDALE, Ariz. – Saturday marked was the 19th home game of the season for the Phoenix Coyotes – matching the number on captain Shane Doan's jersey.
Doan decided to use a new stick knob for the first time in more than a year – going with a more conventional model and parting with an ugly, curved monstrosity that teammate Ray Whitney lovingly refers to as "the ax handle."
Or in the words of good friend Keith Yandle, "It was bound to happen sometime. I mean, purely the law of averages, right?"
Pick your own postulate: The alignment of the planets, the first home game of 2012, whatever. But for the first time in his 16-year career, spanning 1,161 NHL games, 308 goals and more one-liners about his lack of a three-goal game than he can count, Doan finally got his coveted hat trick.
Doan played nearly nine minutes of the third period and needed every last second to get the job done. Huffing and puffing on rubbery legs, Doan put all he had into a Ray Whitney feed that split the pads of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov with :00.1 left in regulation as Coyotes earned a much-needed two points and won for only the second time in their last eight games by routing New York 5-1.
Doan came into the game with 38 career two-goal games, tied with Petr Sykora for the most in NHL history without getting a third goal. Ironically, Sykora snapped his streak at 38 with a hat trick on Dec. 11, 2008, at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena – also against the Islanders. Doan's 305 goals coming into the game were second only to Scott Mellanby (319) for most scored by an NHL player without a hat.
Mellanby gets to keep his record. Sykora has to share his. As he stood amid a foot-high pile of hats around his locker by teammates Keith Yandle and Paul Bissonnette, Doan couldn't have been happier to avoid being a trivia question.
"I gave people a good story for a long time and it lasted for a long time, but I'm pretty happy to get it. I wanted it," said Doan, who tipped a shot just wide with 12 seconds left that appeared to be his last kick at the can. "I looked up and there was about 4.5 second left and Whits got the puck and I knew he was trying to find me and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.' I had to figure out a way to get up the ice because I was done. I knew he was going to get it to me for a shot … and I couldn't believe that it went in."
But was it in time? The goal went to video review, adding even more intrigue to the drama. While the decision was being made, Whitney headed over to referees Rob Martell and Brad Meier at the scorer's table in an attempt to add one more assist.
"I was kind of worried," Whitney said. "I skated up to the refs and said, ‘Look, it's been a long time, 16 years. Tell Toronto that this may never happen again, so make sure than counts.' "
Martell pointed to center ice and the crowd of 13,350, many of whom were chanting Doan's name during every shift down the stretch, exhaled, then exploded.
"He's had so many chances. He had a lot tonight Every time he missed, he kind of grunted and we all grunted with him," said Yandle, who has seen about a third of his friend's two-goal games. "We knew it was coming, we just knew it was going to happen tonight."
Phoenix needed the win. The Coyotes were 1-4-2 in their last seven games and had suffered five one-goal losses during that span. Before the game, Doan said that it was time for the offense to pick up the pace and said "it starts with me."
That's exactly what happened.
Doan scored 1:41 into the game when a Daymond Langkow rebound kicked off the skate of teammate Mikkel Boedker and was left spinning to the left of the crease. Doan swooped in and put the puck past Nabokov for his first goal in seven games and just his second point in the last nine. Doan got off to a hot start this season, but Saturday's goal was only his third since Nov. 29.
The Islanders and their seventh-ranked power play got the goal back quickly. With Marc-Antoine Pouliot off for slashing, a John Tavares shot was stopped by Phoenix goalie Mike Smith but then dribbled between his pads. Frans Nielsen was waiting on the other side to sweep in the puck into the empty net at the 10-minute mark for his seventh goal of the season and third on the power play.
That was the only one of the Isles' 32 shots to beat Smith, who was coming off a 1-0 overtime loss at Los Angeles on Thursday. The injury-riddled Islanders had won three straight before losing 4-2 in Anaheim on Friday.
"It's not like it's a lack of effort," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I'm not disappointed in the effort from these guys. They are doing what they can and they're getting their chances. We're just having a rough time now."
The Coyotes kept coming. Kyle Chipchura hit both posts on the rush late in the first period before Doan started a three-goal second period with his second of the night. Yandle caught the Islanders on a sloppy line change and sent Doan in alone. His wrist shot rattled between Nabokov's pads before crawling over the line at 1:39 to put the Coyotes ahead to stay – and start "Doan Hat Trick Watch" once again in Glendale.
Just 2:02 later, another Coyote snapped a long scoring drought to double Phoenix's lead. Lauri Korpikoski's nifty pass from behind the net found Taylor Pyatt, who took the puck around New York's Tim Wallace and flipped it past Nabokov on the short side. Pyatt's fifth goal of the season was his first in 15 games, dating back to Dec. 6 at Nashville. Pouliot picked up his first NHL point, an assist, on the play.
The Coyotes kept the pressure on and cashed in again. During a delayed penalty, Radim Vrbata's cross-ice pass found Oliver Ekman-Larsson trailing the play and in stride. Ekman-Larsson picked the far top corner and rifled in his seventh goal of the season – tops among Phoenix defensemen.
That was it -- until Doan's buzzer-beater capped a night the Islanders would like to forget.
"It's very disappointing," Isles captain Mark Streit said. "The first period of our last two games was good. We were in the game and then within a couple of minutes we just threw it away. We had some letdowns and they took advantage and we didn't react to them."