You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so Matt Martin
made sure he didn't waste his opportunity to impress his coach in his NHL debut.
The New York Islanders
called up Martin, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, from AHL Bridgeport Monday to provide size and strength up front, commodities that have been in short supply on Long Island this season, particularly on the power play.
Martin made that good impression in his NHL debut Tuesday, earning assists on both of New York's power-play goals -- their first in six games -- as the Islanders rallied for a 4-3 shootout victory over Nashville that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
The performance earned the 20-year-old forward the "hard hat" that's awarded to the hardest-working player after a victory.
"I'll wear it as long as I can -- probably until I get in the shower," he said with a laugh.
For one night, Martin didn't need long to get used to the faster tempo of the NHL. He made a perfect pass to set up Mark Streit
's game-tying goal with 11.1 seconds left to force overtime.
"Here he is with two assists and getting an opportunity in his first NHL game to be on the power play -- it says a lot. There's too much value to be able to have that net presence for any player. We talked about Matt Moulson and his ability to get goals because of his willingness to go to the net. It's the same thing with Matt -- he can get himself an opportunity to play on the power play because he's willing to do that." -- Scott Gordon
"Early on I had some butterflies, but as soon as you get the rhythm of the game, it's the same game, it's just a little quicker," he said. "The second goal was kind of a blur. I saw Streit open there and he made a great shot."
Martin's assists were nice, but what really had coach Scott Gordon
excited after the game was the 6-foot-2 youngster's willingness to go to the net and plant himself there -- as he did while earning an assist on the Isles' first power-play goal. The Islanders, one of the NHL's smallest teams, haven't had that kind of player all season.
Gordon said he scouted Martin and was impressed by that willingness to go to the net.
"I went to watch Bridgeport play two weeks ago," Gordon said. "That was the first thing that caught my eye about Matt Martin
-- his willingness to stand in front of the net on the power play."
Martin's debut left Gordon with visions of one of the NHL's best crease-crashers.
"If you watch him close enough, he's probably as close as anyone I've seen as far as being comparable to the guy in Detroit," Gordon said, referring to Tomas Holmstrom
-- a man who makes his living by planting himself in front of the crease and making life miserable for goaltenders. "Not that he will have the same offensive proficiency. But just the fact that when it's 5-on-5 or the power play, he's got a willingness to go there."
With his power play stagnant, Gordon had no qualms at putting Martin on the second unit -- and by the end of the night, the rookie was on the first unit and playing with the game on the line.
"Here he is with two assists and getting an opportunity in his first NHL game to be on the power play -- it says a lot," Gordon said. "There's too much value to be able to have that net presence for any player. We talked about Matt Moulson
and his ability to get goals because of his willingness to go to the net. It's the same thing with Matt -- he can get himself an opportunity to play on the power play because he's willing to do that.
"On a power play, that net presence can make it harder on a goaltender. He didn't make the screen (on Streit's goal), but he certainly did an unbelievable job retrieving the puck and passing to Mark to allow us to get the shot."
For his part, Martin said his Isles debut showed him something important -- that he has what it takes to play in the NHL.
"As the game went on, I felt more confident," he said. "I felt I could be an NHLer and play the game at this level."