Heading into the NHL’s four-day All-Star Break, coach Jack Capuano delivered a simple message to his team:
Enjoy the time off, but when you return, it’s back to work.
Capuano did not want any member of his struggling squad to forget that jobs were on the line, playing time was to be earned and wins were desperately needed.
Kyle Okposo certainly got that message. After missing the first 45 games of the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Okposo tallied his first two goals of the season and added an assist in the Islanders 4-1 win over the Thrashers at Philips Arena.
"It was nice to get that first one out of the way," Okposo said. "It was a little bit of a weight lifted off my shoulders, but I've been feeling better and better every game."
After four days off to reflect on the shortcomings of their first 49 games—which included a 14-game winless streak, a coaching change and several devastating injuries—the Islanders seemed a new team with their response to an early 1-0 deficit.
Instead of allowing their opponents to clutch momentum, the Islanders seized it right back. They ramped up their forecheck, shortened their shifts and rattled off four unanswered goals.
"I think it was good. We didn't get down," Okposo said. "We didn't have any feeling of doubt after that first goal. We just kept coming and coming."
Right behind Okposo’s three points was PA Parenteau and John Tavares. Parenteau finished with a goal and an assist and Tavares chipped in with two helpers for a team-leading 38 points.
Former Islanders Defenseman Freddy Meyer scored his first goal of the season to give the Thrashers a 1-0 lead at 14:31 of the first.
Meyer’s skate connected with a fluttering puck behind the net and took a carom off the back of Poulin’s right leg.
But down 1-0 in the second period, the Islanders tallied three straight with goals from rookie defenseman Travis Hamonic, Okposo and Parenteau.
Hamonic’s blast—which appeared to deflect in off a Thrashers defenseman’s stick-- beat Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to tie the game at 5:23 and give the 20-year-old his first NHL goal.
"Obviously it's pretty neat. It's a pretty cool accomplishment," Hamonic said of his first goal. "It's a lot better that we got the win. That way it's a lot more exciting for me and I thought the guys played really well."
Okposo also notched his first of the season in the second period. After a bouncing puck was batted out of the air, Okposo slid the puck past Pavelec’s left leg for the go-ahead marker at 16:39.
Parenteau then sizzled a shot through Brent Sopel’s legs from the left circle to tally on the team’s first power-play of the game at 17:39 for a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
Okposo’s second goal of the game, second of the season, came after Michael Grabner made a beautiful pass to him on a 2-on-1 at 11:19 in the last period.
"It was awesome," Okposo said. "I wasn't expecting it, but once he faked that shot I thought it might be coming. It was a sick read. I really didn't have to do anything."
In his eighth NHL game, goaltender Kevin Poulin was stellar, making 25 saves against the Thrashers.
"I thought we played a pretty smart road game. We made a lot of high-percentage plays and I'm pretty proud of the way the guys played tonight," Capuano said.