Tavares’ hat trick leads Isles past winless Coyotes
NEW YORK — The early season frustrations of New York Islanders captain John Tavares are long gone. But the misery shows no signs of abating any time soon for the Arizona Coyotes.
Tavares collected his seventh career hat trick Tuesday night, when his third goal proved to be the game-winner as the Islanders beat the winless Coyotes 5-3 at Barclays Center.
Tavares endured a five-game point drought from Oct. 9 to Oct. 19, his longest dry spell since he went pointless in six games in November, 2011. But he scored twice and collected three points in a 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks in the Islanders’ previous game on Saturday.
“I know how it gets when he bursts out and then he takes a team on his shoulders for a while,” Islanders head coach Doug Weight said.
Nobody in the NHL needs a burst-out moment like the Coyotes, whose 0-8-1 start is the second worst in NHL history. The 1943-44 New York Rangers were winless in their first 15 games (0-14-1).
“Back to the drawing board again,” said Coyotes center Nick Cousins, who scored one of Arizona’s two game-tying goals in the third period. “It’s frustrating and I think guys in this room are pretty sick of losing.”
The back-to-back big games for Tavares have softened his mood. The five goals in consecutive game are the most by Tavares since he had five from Oct. 13 to Oct. 15, 2011, and the seven points in two games are his most since he racked up eight points on Jan. 6-7, 2014.
“He’s a regular 70-point scorer, which means that 90 percent of the games he’s getting a goal or getting an assist,” Islanders right winger Cal Clutterbuck said of Tavares, who has exceeded 65 points four straight seasons and in six of the last seven, with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 serving as the only exception. “So if he goes four game without a point, you know there’s a couple (big games) waiting for him.”
Tavares is famously unflappable in public, but Clutterbuck said he sensed the center was bothered by his mini-slump.
“When you’re in it yourself, personally, it’s tough, you know?” Clutterbuck said. “You’re used to touching the puck all the time and creating opportunities, even if they’re not going in. You go through a frustrating stretches where the puck’s bouncing on you and you just feel like you’re making every single wrong play at the wrong time, it just kind of builds on itself.”
Tavares acknowledged he felt due for the type of good “puck luck” night he enjoyed Tuesday. On his first goal, created off a Coyotes turnover deep in the Arizona zone, Tavares was stationed in front of the net when he got the pass from Jordan Eberle. He was also in the right place at the right time for his second goal, when a pass from Adam Pelech ticked off Tavares’ skate and into the net.
“When you’re against Johnny Tavares, he’s a helluva player, so you’ve got to get his stick,” Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. “If you’re near him, get his stick. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be in your net.”
That’s what happened when Pelech and Tavares teamed up for the winning goal with 7:19 left in the third period. Tavares extended his stick to receive a pass from Pelech and poked the puck through the legs of Coyotes defenseman Jason Demers and past goalie Louis Domingue.
“He put it in a perfect spot for me,” Tavares said of Pelech. “He really made it easy for me to just lay my stick out there and kind of let the momentum of the puck do the work.”
The hat trick was the seventh of Tavares’ career and his first since Jan. 13.
“A couple weeks prior, I think I had some opportunities that I expected myself to put in,” Tavares said. “Three deflections for me today. Sometimes you’ve got to find different ways to create opportunities to get pucks to the net.”
Brock Nelson scored in the third period and Scott Mayfield added an insurance goal with 2:57 left for the Islanders (5-3-1), who have won three straight. Goalie Jaroslav Halak had 32 saves.
Anthony Duclair and Mario Kempe also had goals for the Coyotes (0-8-1), who scored first for the seventh time in nine games but continued to struggle in the third period and beyond. Arizona has been outscored 17-6 after the second period.
“It’s really frustrating,” Cousins said. “I think we’re really fragile right now, especially in third periods.”
Domingue made 20 saves.
NOTES: The Islanders scratched C Josh Ho-Sang, D Ryan Pulock and D Dennis Seidenberg. ... The Islanders went 17-14-6 against the Western Conference in their final four seasons at Nassau Coliseum, though that span includes the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season in which there was no inter-conference play. ... The Coyotes scratched D Kevin Connauton, LW Lawson Crouse and G Adin Hill. ... The Coyotes have one win or fewer through nine games for the second time in franchise history. The then-Winnipeg Jets opened 1-6-2 in 1980-81.