UNIONDALE, N.Y. – For the first time in 13 years, the New York Islanders are off to a 4-0-0 start. They have John Tavares and Jaroslav Halak to thank for win No. 4.
Tavares scored a spectacular goal to start the fifth round of the shootout, and Halak followed by stopping Joe Thornton to end the game and give New York a 4-3 victory against the previously unbeaten San Jose Sharks on Thursday.
The Islanders captain slowly dipsy-doodled his way toward the net, outwaited goaltender Alex Stalock and got him to drop to the ice, then lifted a backhander under the crossbar. Halak then came out and denied Thornton’s wrister for the win.
“It’s a little Patrick Kane-ish,” New York coach Jack Capuano said when asked to describe Tavares’ slow-motion stroll to the net. “He’s an aggressive goaltender. Johnny went in and used his skill, and it went into the back of the net.”
The Islanders started 4-0-0 in 2001-02 and went on to end a seven-year absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Tavares, who has been in the playoffs once in his five NHL seasons, doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
“4-0 is nice, but you try to focus one day at a time,” said Tavares, who also had two assists, giving him nine points in four games. “We have a long way to go.
“Every day is a new test, a new challenge. We want to be able to challenge against some of the teams that have proven themselves, and this team is one of them. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Stalock made 42 saves in his second start of the season, enabling the Sharks (3-0-1) to get to the shootout despite being outshot 45-23.
“Al played a tremendous game,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “He gave us the game we thought we’d get from him.”
Capuano wasn’t sure whether he was more pleased by the 45 shots his team took or the 23 it allowed.
“They’ve always been a team that plays extremely fast,” he said. “They’re probably one of the fastest teams; we’ve talked about their defense and transition, how they get up into the play. I thought our guys played a real good 200-foot game tonight.
“We kept the puck deep. We didn’t make ‘hope’ plays in the offensive zone, and we eliminated our turnovers. We just did a lot of little things and intangibles throughout the game that I hope will be ingrained in our guys as we move forward.”
Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau and Tomas Hertl scored in regulation for the Sharks. Nick Leddy, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey had goals for the Islanders.
Though his team has yet to lose in regulation, McLellan said this game showed that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We still have work to do,” he said. “If we’d won the shootout, we’d still be saying that.”
The Islanders trailed 2-1 entering the third period despite outshooting the Sharks 28-11 through 40 minutes. But they got even at 5:57 on a power-play goal by Okposo and took their first lead when Bailey whipped a forehand shot past Stalock from the slot at 8:38.
However, San Jose capitalized on a defensive breakdown that left Hertl alone on the right wing. He moved into the lower right circle and snapped a high shot that caught the far corner at 11:16, tying the game for a third time.
Halak had to make seven saves during the five-minute overtime and four more stops in the tiebreaker to keep the Islanders unbeaten.
San Jose opened the scoring 1:39 into the second period when forward-turned-defenseman Burns beat Halak with a slap shot from just inside the left circle. The Sharks were effectively playing 5-on-4 because a previous blast by Burns was blocked by Tavares, who was unable to get up and back into the play.
But the Islanders captain was back for his next shift and had the primary assist on Leddy’s tying goal at 4:05. Leddy’s straightaway 50-foot slap shot went through traffic and past Stalock.
The Sharks needed all of seven seconds on their first power play, which came at 9:07 of the second when Islanders forward Ryan Strome took an offensive-zone cross-checking penalty, to regain the lead. Marleau took a pass from Burns and fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that caught the top far corner past Halak, who was screened, for his third goal.
Stalock helped the Sharks survive a late Islanders flurry in the second period, but he was helpless on Okposo’s power-play goal. With Burns off for delay of game after batting the puck over the glass, Okposo was left alone in the slot and converted Frans Nielsen’s pass for his second goal.
McLellan said the Islanders’ speed and determination were impressive.
“The pace went up a little bit,” McLellan said. “They’re a very quick team, and they have a tenacity to them that we hadn’t seen. It was a good test for a number of our players, veterans, to get used to that pace again. It was an eye-opener for some of the kids.”
The Islanders were unable to solve Stalock during a first period in which they outshot the Sharks 14-3 and generated plenty of pressure.
New York lost forward Mikhail Grabovski at 13:22 of the first period when he knocked to the ice in the San Jose zone by Sharks forward John Scott. Grabovski had to be helped off the ice and did not return.
The Islanders said Grabovski sustained an upper-body injury, and Capuano had no update after the game. No penalty was called against Scott.