With the calendar flipping to 2012, time is truly getting short for teams that need to make up points and ground for the playoffs. The Islanders closed out 2011 playing like a team that knows the season could hang in the balance in the next few weeks.
With another superb effort from John Tavares and good discipline from Matt Martin, who twice turned the other cheek to draw Islanders power plays that were converted into goals, the Isles earned a 4-1 victory over the reeling Oilers on Saturdayat Nassau Coliseum.
"We've done some good things," Jack Capuano said after his team scored four goals on its first nine shots in the opening 24:05 and then clamped down for its second straight victory. "We've got to continue to play that way."
This wasn't a gritty, hard-won victory over one of the elite teams in the NHL, or even two crucial points taken from an Eastern Conference foe. The Islanders are 5-2-4 against the West but still need to play determined, consistent hockey against the teams they need to leapfrog to get back into the playoff chase.
But if the Isles play the way they did Thursday against the Flames and Saturday against the Oilers -- who are 6-16-1 in their last 23 games -- despite sitting in a tie for 14th place, nine points out of eighth, they can say they could be a contender.
As he did with a highlight-reel goal for the winner against Calgary, Tavares got the Islanders going Saturday. With Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk sprawled outside the crease, he flipped a loose puck into a yawning net on the power play 3:44 into the first.
But it was Tavares' play on the eventual game-winner that gave him the honor of being the top No. 1 overall draft pick on the ice, better than the two most recent picks, Oilers forwards Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
After Sam Gagner deflected a shot past Evgeni Nabokov at 12:58 to tie the score, Tavares sped past Nugent-Hopkins into the Edmonton zone and took a feed from Matt Moulson. Tavares stopped short, spun around as Nugent-Hopkins flew by and threaded a pass to Moulson, who deposited his team-high 17th goal in the net with 2:05 left in the first.
"For me, I just have to read off him,'' said Moulson, who added two assists. "Ninety percent of the time, I know what he's going to do, and then there's the other 10 percent when he does something pretty remarkable that nobody knows he can do."
Tavares got a scare toward the end of the second when former Islander Andy Sutton, coming off an eight-game suspension for a hit to the head, leveled Tavares a good three to four seconds after the Islander had taken a shot. Tavares writhed on the ice for a few seconds and headed to the dressing room but came back before the second period ended. He later said he was fine.
Sutton caught Tavares in the hallway outside the Islanders' dressing room after the game and apologized, saying the hit was late.
Martin had a chance to lay out Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid behind the Edmonton net early in the second but held up and hit Smid in the midsection. Ben Eager still took exception, dropped his gloves and shook Martin, who refused to fight. Eager got his second minor for roughing Martin, and P.A. Parenteau scored on the power play at 3:19.
Martin capped the scoring 46 seconds later with a shot off a sharp angle that Dubnyk whiffed on. From there, Nabokov (28 saves) and the Islanders kept Edmonton's talented young forwards in check.
"It was a really solid team effort," said Nabokov, who got his 297th career win. "It feels good."