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Hamonic stands out in homecoming

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
In the Islanders return to Winnipeg, playing in sophomore defenseman Travis Hamonic’s hometown for the first time since March  9, 1996, the Islanders proved to be victorious with a 3-2 shootout win over the Jets. PA Parenteau’s shootout goal was the game winner, while Frans Nielsen scored on his famous backhand move for the second straight game.

The low-scoring contest was very much a goaltending duel. Ondrej Pavelec played an outstanding game, making saves on 31-of-33 shots, but it was Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov who would come out victorious.

Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov celebrates a 3-2 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets with teammates PA Parenteau, Michael Grabner and John Tavares at the MTS Centre on December 20, 2011 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
Nabokov played a solid game in 26:20 of relief action, making 14 saves in the third period and an additional five saves in overtime. He continued that shutdown success into the shootout, stopping Blake Wheeler and Kyle Wellwood’s shots.

“I’m not a goalie and I couldn’t imagine coming in cold like that, but I thought he played a great game,” Hamonic said. “He gave us an opportunity to win and he was stellar in the shootout, so you can’t ask for anything more.”

Nabokov entered the game with 1:20 left in the second period for his first game action since Nov. 17. Al Montoya was run over by Evander Kane, who made no effort to avoid contact with the Isles netminder after taking a hit from Milan Jurcina. Kane took a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, while Montoya left the game after making saves on 17-of-19 shots.

Hamonic stood out in front of his hometown crowd, having the kind of game you’d expect from one of the Isles top defensemen. Not only did the 21-year-old blue liner have the primary assist on Michael Grabner’s goal, but he played a team and career-high of 28:56 of ice time and blocked a team-high seven shots, including a big shot from Dustin Byfuglien around the 7:17 mark of the second period. Though Hamonic hobbled to the bench, he came out and played four more shifts in the second period.

“With comfort comes pressure and responsibility,” Hamonic said. “Maybe I didn’t get the start (to the season) that I necessarily wanted, but I still played solid. Especially in the last 10 games or so, I’ve started to chip in with five or six points. The puck is starting to go in for me and I’ve started to get those bounces. Most importantly, I think I’m playing pretty good and sound defensively and that’s my bread and butter. That’s what’s most important to me.”

The Islanders opened the scoring 8:17 into the first period. On an odd-man rush, Parenteau brought the puck out of the Isles defensive zone along the boards. Sustaining pressure, Parenteau made a short East-West pass to Tavares in the neutral zone, who carried the puck into the offensive zone and passed down the left side of the boards to Moulson. The Isles forward skated through the faceoff circle and passed out front to Parenteau, who gathered a tip from Johnny Oduya for the backhander past Pavalec for the 1-0 lead.

Tobias Enstrom battles with PA Parenteau as they skate up the ice during first period action at the MTS Centre on December 20, 2011. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
A down-ice clear from Parenteau led to an icing call in favor of the Jets. Three seconds off the faceoff, a pass back to Oduya on the left point and his low slap shot slid through traffic and into the net to tie the score at one with two minutes remaining in the first period.

The Islanders regained the lead nearly four minutes into the second period (3:53) as Andrew MacDonald rang the puck around the boards to Hamonic. The Winnipegger shot the puck through traffic and standing at the paint, Grabner tapped the puck over the goal line to lift the Isles 2-1.

With 10:14 left in the second period, Kyle Wellwood passed the puck to Nik Antropov at center before he made the drop pass to Andrew Ladd. Ladd’s wrist shot from the top of the left circle beat Montoya glove side to even the score at two.

“It was kind of wide open, lots of shots,” Capuano said. “I think we had 11 turnovers in the first period, the most we’ve had all season, but we settled down a little bit. They’re a great team, they came hard, it was a great atmosphere here tonight, but we did what we had to do to get the two points.”

The crowd in Winnipeg was raucous the entire night. Hamonic, who as a kid rooted for the Jets, said the energy of the crowd is part of what makes the game at MTS Centre distinct.

“As the game went on, both teams settled into play a little bit and limited the amount of turnovers that were happening,” said Hamonic. Ultimately, we just wanted to stick to our game plan and play a full 60. I thought we did a pretty good job.”

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