– As they head out for two weeks on the road, the New York Islanders
gave their fans a rare offensive explosion to remember them by.
Sean Bergenheim, Jack Hillen and Blake Comeau
all scored their first goals of the season as the Islanders busted loose with a 6-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers
at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night.
also set up goals by Andy Sutton and Matt Moulson
as the Islanders bombarded Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec with 36 shots in the first 40 minutes and beat him five times before he was relieved by Johan Hedberg to start the third period. Josh Bailey
added a late power-play goal for New York, which had scored just one goal in its last two games, losses at Buffalo (3-0) and New Jersey (2-1).
"I think we have a lot of firepower, a lot of young guys who bring a lot of talent and a lot of young guys who bring a lot of grit," said Tavares, who now has 13 points in 17 games. "We got the jump on them early, and we were able to sustain that all game long."
It was a 180-degree turnaround from the loss at New Jersey on Friday, in which the Isles generated little offense -- and coach Scott Gordon was delighted with the way his team performed in the second half of a back-to-back.
"At a time where we easily might not have had any jump, this is probably the most jump we've had in any game," he said after 13 players hit the scoresheet. "It's a feel-good thing for everybody – everybody wants to contribute offensively. If you can get balanced scoring, you're a lot harder to defend against."
The victory was a nice going-away present from the Isles to their fans. New York begins a seven-game road trip Wednesday at Washington and won't be back at the Nassau Coliseum until Thanksgiving Eve. In all, the Islanders play 12 of their next 14 on the road.
"To be able to win this last home game before we hit the road is obviously huge," Gordon said. "It puts us back at .500 (6-6-5). Now we get a couple of days – we're off Sunday and have two days of practice – before we head for Washington. It's a lot better to know you're going on the road with a win rather than a loss."
The Thrashers got goals by defensemen Zach Bogosian, Pavel Kubina and Christoph Schubert, but struggled in their own zone for most of the night under relentless pressure from the Islanders' forecheckers. Atlanta fell to 5-2-1 on the road and goes home for a Sunday game against St. Louis.
Thrashers coach John Anderson said his team "took an old-fashioned can of (butt)-whipping tonight. We had three or four guys show up. It was embarrassing. We can't play like that."
The happiest Islander was Comeau, who had been a healthy scratch for the last six games and dressed only because of an injury to captain Doug Weight. He scored 22 seconds into the second period, added an assist and was a pest in the Thrashers’ zone all night long.
"It's been frustrating," he said of having to sit and watch for the last couple of weeks. "I think anybody would be frustrated. I thought I had a good attitude about it. I was working hard when I needed to in practice, waiting for my opportunity to get back in the lineup."
The Isles had the first big chance six minutes into the game when Kyle Okposo
broke up a pass in his own zone and led a 2-on-1 break. Okposo found Frans Nielsen
with a perfect pass, but Pavelec slid from left to right to stop Nielsen's 10-foot wrister and cover the puck.
New York grabbed the lead just over three minutes later. Tavares picked up a pass in the right corner, worked his way toward the top of the circle and found Sutton cutting in from the left point. Sutton took the pass, stopped and surprised Pavelec with a quick, high backhander to the far corner at 9:11.
The lead lasted only until 12:56, when Bogosian, Atlanta's top pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, scored his sixth of the season, beating Dwayne Roloson with a wrist shot from just inside the right circle. But the Isles went back in front 38 seconds later when Bergenheim got his first of the season, hammering in a rebound after Pavelec had stopped Freddy Meyer's point shot through traffic.
"He's been working so hard in practice," Tavares said of Bergenheim. "It was nice to see him get one."
The Islanders kept firing away at Pavelec and were rewarded with at 18:52. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Hillen controlled the puck just inside the blue line, waited for some traffic to form and fired a straightaway slap shot that went past the goaltender's glove.
"I think we have a lot of firepower, a lot of young guys who bring a lot of talent and a lot of young guys who bring a lot of grit. We got the jump on them early, and we were able to sustain that all game long." -- John Tavares
New York finished the period with 21 shots on goal, its highest total of the season. The Islanders hadn't hit double figures in shots in any of their previous six periods and had only 24 in each of their two previous games.
"You put (21) shots on net in the first and you keep that rolling, you get a few early and it gets our confidence up," Tavares said. "You start throwing pucks on the net, crashing the net, and it made things happen for us."
The first-period barrage left Anderson shaking his head.
"We just didn't come ready to play," Anderson said. "Our first three or four shifts were good, but after that, we were nonexistent out there. I have to give them a lot of credit for the way they played after a hard loss last night. They came back and played very, very hard. I hope we can learn from that tomorrow."
Atlanta cut the deficit to 4-2 at 3:42 when Pavel Kubina took a perfect pass from Ron Hainsey and beat Roloson from the left faceoff dot three seconds after a power play expired.
Both teams had chances before the Islanders regained their three-goal lead at 11:59. Tavares made the play again, picking up a dump-in and circling behind the net before finding Moulson in the high slot for a quick snap shot past Pavelec's glove for his team-high seventh of the season.
Atlanta was unable to connect on two third-period power plays before Schubert beat Roloson from center point through traffic with 7:57. But Kubina severely damaged any chances of a late rally when he was called for holding with 5:41 remaining and drew an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving New York an extra man for four minutes – and Bailey put the game away when he ripped a shot past Hedberg from the slot with 4:25 to play.