UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Don't ask the Detroit Red Wings why the New York Islanders struggle year after year to stay out of the basement in the Eastern Conference. This is one team for which Hockeytown's heroes have no answers.
John Tavares had a goal and assist in the second period, shortly after being struck in the cheek with a puck, and Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves as the Islanders beat the Red Wings 5-1 on Tuesday night.
Matt Moulson started and finished the outburst for the Islanders, 5-0-1 against the Red Wings since the NHL lockout seven years ago. New York is 15-1-7 at home in its last 23 games against Western Conference teams.
"They've been around a long time and have been successful," Tavares said of the Red Wings.
Not on this night.
The common theme among the Red Wings was how they were outworked by a team that improved to second-to-last in the East with the win. Detroit will get a day off from practice on Wednesday after a 2-2 road trip, and hope that will be enough to get them going again back at home.
It wasn't deserved, but appears to be necessary.
"It's just our lack of working hard," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Our work ethic wasn't there. For whatever reason, I don't think we played as hard as you have to against a very talented team."
There is no explanation for the Islanders' success against the Red Wings, considering New York hasn't been in the playoffs since 2007, and Detroit is a Stanley Cup contender every season. The Islanders improved to 45-44-8 versus the Wings, and haven't lost to them in regulation since a 6-0 defeat on Nov. 28, 2003.
Detroit's 767 wins since the start of the 1997-98 season are the most in the NHL.
"We elevated our battles defensively," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We approach every game the same."
Tavares left the ice hunched over with a towel pressed to the face less than one minute into the second, after a dump-in by Detroit's Niklas Kronwall hit him. He returned to the bench a few minutes later and caused major damage.
First, he took a drop pass from Kyle Okposo and snapped a shot past goalie Ty Conklin at 7:31, and then fed Okposo in the slot for a one-timer 3:39 later to make it 3-0.
"I'm lucky it wasn't too serious," Tavares said. "It seems that kinda got me going"
Michael Grabner added a goal with 1:28 left in the second, a period in which the Islanders scored three goals on four shots. Moulson scored with 53 seconds left in the first and added his 20th of the season with 6:03 remaining in the game to push the lead to 5-1, with an assist from Tavares.
That was enough to have fans chanting, "You can't beat us!"
Conklin made 25 saves and likely will be back on the bench Thursday in favour of No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard, who sat for the second straight game. The Red Wings hope leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk will also return to the lineup against Phoenix after sitting out Tuesday because of an undisclosed lower body injury.
The Red Wings, who fell out of the Central Division lead, had a lineup with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, but again were surprisingly no match for the Islanders. Detroit coach Mike Babcock reminded his team about the Islanders' success, but the message didn't stick.
"Were we any good? No, we weren't any good," Babcock said. "Obviously, me talking about it wasn't enough."
New York opened a four-game homestand after a 1-2 trip.
Nabokov, making his ninth consecutive start, got some assistance as two Red Wings drives struck goal posts, but he was solid in earning his 299th NHL victory. His shutout bid ended 2:36 into the third when Justin Abdelkader's fifth goal made it 4-1.
Detroit has won 12 straight at home, but 19 of its past 27 have been on the road. The Red Wings are only 9-10 in those away games.
"It's nothing that we're going to blame this on," forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "We've played in this league long enough, we should be able to come out and play better."
The Islanders dominated the first period and finally got a puck past Conklin in the final minute during a power play. New York cashed in when Moulson sent a shot from just above the goal line toward the crease that hit the left skate of defenceman Drew Miller and bounced in.
The Islanders sent 17 shots on Conklin in the first, and Nabokov faced only eight, but one was a brilliant arm save while sprawled in the crease off an in-close shot by Valtteri Filppula with 2:45 left.
NOTES: Datsyuk missed his first game of the season. ... Islanders D Mark Streit assisted on Moulson and Grabner's goals. ... Tavares has had an assist in six straight games, with three goals, nine assists and four multipoint games during the run. ... Grabner had gone eight games without a goal. ... The Red Wings had won five of seven.