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Scoring surge brings smiles on Long Island

by John Kreiser /
Quick -- name the one NHL team that has three players with 23 or more goals. Washington? Pittsburgh? Vancouver? Tampa Bay? Philadelphia?
Would you believe the New York Islanders?
Yes, those Islanders -- the team that scored all of 15 goals in the entire month of November. The team that won just once in a 21-game span from late October to mid-December, that's used six goaltenders (all of whom have at least one win).
And the team that has won eight of 11 games since the All-Star break, including a 5-1 victory against Florida on Monday that moved them within 11 points of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday's visit to Toronto. They've scored 44 goals in those 11 games.
"They're doing the right things," Islanders interim coach Jack Capuano said of his players after his team beat the Panthers. "When you do the right things, you get rewarded. The guys are playing within the guidelines we're giving them. They're shooting pucks. ... Good things happen when you get pucks on net."
On Monday, it was Matt Moulson's turn to grab the spotlight -- and the team lead in goals. Moulson scored twice in the first period and added an empty-netter in the third to pass teammates John Tavares (23) and Michael Grabner (25) for the team lead with 26.
The battle for the team lead in goals among Moulson (on track to surpass the 30 he scored last season), Tavares (the team leader with 52 points) and Grabner (tops among rookies in goals) has turned into a healthy competition, according to Moulson.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't," he said when asked whether the battle for the team lead was a motivating factor. "We don't really talk about it, but it is that kind of healthy competition. Guys want to score. Guys want to score to get wins for this team, so it's always a good thing when guys want to get goals for wins."
It's quite a turnaround for a team that spent most of the first three months of the season piling up injuries rather than goals. The Isles have scored three or more goals in their last nine games -- their longest streak since 1994 -- and 10 of their 11 games since the break.
"I think it says a lot about this team as a whole and how we've been playing," Moulson said of the hot streak and the offensive surge. "I think we've been doing a great job all around. Our defense has been playing great, our goalie has been playing great. We've been sticking to our game plan of getting pucks in, getting a good forecheck, and that leads to goals."
Grabner, signed off waivers from Florida just before the season, has been a revelation. He has 25 goals despite getting less ice time (14:18) than any 20-goal scorer in the League and scoring just once on the power play. His speed -- he won the fastest skater competition during All-Star Weekend -- makes him a breakaway threat every time he steps on the ice.
"It doesn't hurt that Grabs is the fastest guys on skates, so it makes it easier for him," Moulson said.
Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, continues to mature. His 52 points are tied with Philadelphia's Jeff Carter for 21st in the League -- and despite a minus-17 rating, his overall game is improving as he gets stronger and more hockey-smart.
The trio of Tavares, Moulson and offseason signee PA Parenteau get more comfortable with each other every day. On Monday, Tavares set up Moulson's first goal by digging the puck off the end boards and sliding it past two defensemen; Parenteau made the play on the second with a slick pass out of the left corner.
"My linemates made some great plays out there," Moulson said. "Obviously, on the first one, Johnny made a great pass while battling. PA made a great play on the second one. I didn't have to do too much for them today, then with the empty net. It was three kind-of-easy ones."
Defenseman Radek Martinek, the oldest Islander at age 34, is having the time of his life.
"I'm so happy with how we're playing," said Martinek, who scored his second goal of the season on Monday. "It's so much fun. Everybody is doing their jobs. Everybody is making the right plays, scoring goals, not giving up goals. It's so much fun."
The playoffs are still a distant vision – but no longer a totally-impossible dream in a conference that has several contenders who've been struggling.
"Our focus is to get as many wins as we can, and obviously that will give us the best shot of making a push," Moulson said. "We're kind of under-the-radar. Everyone talks about the Devils and the way they're playing right now -- they're the hottest team in the League. Maybe we'll catch a couple of teams off-guard."
Capuano, who was promoted from the Isles' AHL team in Bridgeport when Scott Gordon was let go during the November slump, has survived a plethora of injuries in defense and in goal -- Al Montoya has gone from a backup with the Phoenix Coyotes' AHL affiliate to a starter on Long Island in 10 days -- and has prospered by sticking with set lines and letting the players get used to each other.
"There's a lot of camaraderie in that room right now," Capuano said. "Guys are having fun, and they've bought into the team concept."
He played down his own role, adding that, "It's all them. It's attention to detail."
One thing Capuano is looking forward to is Tuesday night's game against the Maple Leafs -- his first visit to Toronto as an NHL coach.
"I was originally drafted by that team," said Capuano, a fifth-round pick of the Leafs in 1984. "I played my first NHL game with that team. It's a special place, obviously. We're looking forward to a strong test from a team that's playing some good hockey."
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