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Friday, October 4, 2013
Tavares celebrates first win as captain

By Katie Strang

NEWARK, N.J. -- A few hours before he wore the “C” for the very first time, John Tavares was asked how he wants his tenure as New York Islanders captain to be defined.

Bryce Salvador and  John Tavares
Devils captain Bryce Salvador and Islanders captain John Tavares get together before the game.
He didn’t mention himself once. Instead, he rattled off the single most important priority concerning the team:

Success.

Tavares himself didn’t deliver the heroics in the Islanders' season opener, but the start of his captaincy began with a win regardless, as Matt Moulson's sixth-round shootout goal and a pair of goals from Michael Grabner boosted the Isles to a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday.

“It makes for a good feeling in the locker room,” said the 23-year-old Tavares, who was named the 14th captain in team history on Sept. 9.

A new captain isn’t the only thing that seems to have changed around the Islanders, who have long been treated as the red-headed stepchild of the NHL. There appears to be a different sort of confidence that has taken root, and along with that, higher expectations.

The Islanders made their first postseason appearance in six years last spring. And a surprisingly competitive first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins earned the Isles some respect, and gave them a taste of something they'd gone a long time without.

Now they enter the 2013-14 season with playoff experience. And they understand the amount of hard work it will take to return to the postseason.

“I don’t know if it’s a new era (but) I think realizing we can be successful with the way we played down the stretch last year ... I think (we) have a little more confidence in getting wins,” Moulson said.

The line of Tavares, Moulson and Kyle Okposo struggled during regulation, mismanaging the puck and spending time hemmed into their own end. But the Islanders received some much-needed secondary scoring from Grabner.

The speedy winger, whose well-documented difficulty on the breakaway is a perennial gripe among Islanders fans, utilized his strength in slicing through two Devils defenders and slipping the puck underneath Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur's pads during the first period. He tallied his second of the night on a right-wing rush in the middle frame.

“He’s obviously proven he can score a lot of goals and how much of a weapon his speed is,” Tavares said. “When he’s using it aggressively, that’s when he’s really playing well.”

That line came through later, in the third period, when Grabner picked up an assist on a nice give-and-go play with Nielsen, in which the Danish center tucked the puck at the left post for a 3-2 lead at 1:01. When the Devils tied the game later in the third on Damien Brunner's second goal of the night, the Islanders didn’t panic.

There were some harried moments in the Islanders' own end in the waning minutes of regulation, but they held on, withstanding some tremendous saves from Brodeur that were vintage Marty.

As one would expect from the first game of the season, it wasn’t pretty. The victory came from the supporting cast, not the stars.

Tavares is fine with that. Like he said, he just wants to win.