Jack Capuano stood in front of the assembled media gathered outside the visitor’s dressing room at the Prudential Center Friday night and espoused a few of his favorite words.
He spoke of “character, leadership, accountability amongst the guys,” a few minutes after his New York Islanders topped the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, in overtime.
And, yes, his team has routinely displayed those attributes in the 2014-15 season as they’ve skyrocketed to the upper echelon of the NHL. On this night, in this venue, it was Capuano’s captain, John Tavares, who reminded the hockey world why he was the first overall selection in the 2009 Draft and is the unquestioned franchise cornerstone.
With the Islanders trailing 2-1 with 6:13 left in regulation, Tavares banked a Kyle Okposo rebound off of Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid frombehind the goal lineto tie the game 2-2.
Nine minutes and eight seconds of game action later, Tavares sent 16,592 home as he took the puck off of Devils defenseman Adam Larsson’s stick, curled from behind the net toward the goal, then snapped a shot past Kinkaid for the game-winnner.
“I don’t think he had a sense where the pressure was and where his guys [were],” Tavares said of Larsson, in explaining the game-deciding sequence. “I just tried to get a good jump on him, had an opportunity to strip him. [I] just took it to the net, [Kinkaid] committed to me and I took it to the far side.”
Tavares left Newark with two goals and three points as he increased his team-leading numbers in those categories to 19 and 39, respectively.
“Ninety-one was good for us, real good for us,” Capuano said of Tavares. “We were generating, getting good zone time, getting shots through. To me it was a matter of time until we got a chance. Fortunately in overtime we gained the middle of the ice with 91 and he made a great shot.”
Unquestionably. Still, unlike seasons past, the Islanders are not one-line dependent in order to be successful. Following Saturday night’s 5-2 rout of the Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Islanders 57 points leads the Metropolitan Division, is second most in the Eastern Conference, and ranks third in the league.
Delving further into statistical analysis, the Islanders’ 125 goals are fourth most in the NHL, and their 2.98 goals per game is tied for sixth in the league. Perhaps most telling, the Islanders have a 53.5 Corsi-For percentage, and have won 13-of-17 games in which they’ve trailed.
“I’ve said it all along,” Capuano said. “It’s a different team than [what it has] been the last couple years.”
One of the carryovers, though, has been Tavares. And that, Capuano would argue is “real good” for the Islanders.