The Islanders had very little going on Tuesday night. They did have John Tavares, which was enough.
Tavares recorded a hat trick, including the game winner with 7:19 to play, and added an assist in a command performance and a 5-3 Islanders win over the winless Coyotes at Barclays Center.
The Isles were sloppy early and inconsistent often but not No. 91, who scored on three deflections for his seventh career hat trick.
Tavares moved into seventh place in franchise history in goals (241) and points (547) on Tuesday and now has seven points in two games after none in the previous five.
“I had some opportunities earlier (this season) that I expect myself to put in,” Tavares said. “Tonight there were some great plays by my teammates and I just got rewarded. You just have to find ways to create opportunities.”
The Isles were lucky to only be down 1-0 after a period to Rick Tocchet’s hungry crew, which took the lead early on Anthony Duclair’s power-play goal and could have gotten more when the Coyotes had a 36-second five-on-three midway through the first.
Jaroslav Halak (32 saves) made a couple key stops, Johnny Boychuk blocked a sure goal and Casey Cizikas gutted out two straight penalty-kill minutes without a stick or one glove, helping to slowly steer the Isles back on track.
“We were lifeless then,” Doug Weight said.
Tavares turned it on in the second. He converted Jordan Eberle’s centering feed with a difficult backhand tip over Louis Domingue’s shoulder from barely 10 feet out at 3:41, then had Adam Pelech’s pass go from skate to stick and in at 14:25 to send the Isles to the third with the lead.
It was a dangerous affair from then on. Halak let in a softie from distance by Mario Kempe at 1:32; Brock Nelson answered with a rare power-play goal by the Isles (on a penalty drawn by Tavares, naturally) at 4:21 and Nick Cousins deflected Clayton Keller’s shot past Halak to tie it again at 8:57.
But Tavares moved into redirecting position and Pelech, who had a career-best three assists, sent a perfect pass that Tavares tipped between defenseman Jason Demers’ legs and over Domingue for the final Isles lead. The captain put the maraschino cherry on top by setting up Scott Mayfield’s goal at 17:03, giving Tavares 10 points on the season — that’s on the edge of the top 20 in the league after sitting on three points for two weeks.
“He does this every year,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “He goes through a short period where he doesn’t score, he thinks he’s lost it and has to be coaxed off the ledge then he goes out, does what he does and all is right with the world . . . The reason he’s as good as he is, is that he takes what he’s given. When he’s forcing things it doesn’t usually work out.”
The Islanders have now won three straight, even though they haven’t been as consistent as they’d like. It’s a turnaround from the first six games, when the Isles were sitting at 2-3-1 and felt they earned more.
“Now we need to take what we do well and do it a little more often,” Weight said. “I know how it gets when Johnny busts out like this and it was good to see us get a couple wins to go along with it.”
Notes & quotes: Mayfield’s goal was the first by an Islander defenseman this season. Only the Sabres remain without a goal from any of their D this year . . . The Isles are now 23-4-4 at Barclays Center against Western Conference opponents . . . Josh Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock and Dennis Seidenberg were healthy scratches for the Islanders on Tuesday.