UNIONDALE, NY— A season-low attendance at Nassau Coliseum witnessed the Islanders defeat the Buffalo Sabres, 5-0, on Saturday night.
Steve Tambellini was likely not counted among the announced crowd of 8,889. But Edmonton’s general
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manager was in attendance and watched his son play the best game of his professional life.
Jeff Tambellini netted his first career hat trick to lift the Isles (4-4-5) to .500 for the month of October after the club lost its first six games to start the campaign.
Tambellini is working to shed the label as a forward who can dominate the minor league-AHL but can’t score enough at the game’s highest level. Tambellini scored at least 20 goals in all three of his AHL seasons but had just 11 goals in his first 143 games for the Islanders.
Yet Tambellini capped his hottest goal-scoring streak as an NHL player with his father in attendance. The 25-year-old scored twice against Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who entered the game 8-0 with a 1.65 goals-against average.
Tambellini now has six goals in the past five games, including two mulit-goal games in the past four contests after never reaching the plateau in parts of his first four seasons on Long Island. Those numbers seem surprising, though Tambellini said he expected that level of performance.
“This is the way I usually play,” said Tambellini, who scored 96 in 169 career minor league games. “Last year was my first full year in the NHL and before that I was playing in the American League and this was the way it went. I just feel like I’m back doing my thing again.”
Coach Scott Gordon paired Tambellini on a line with second-year center Josh Bailey and veteran team captain Doug Weight. The trio combined for five points as the Islanders ended Buffalo’s (8-2-1) four-game winning streak. The Sabres lost for the first time in five road games.
Hats crashed to the Coliseum ice when Tambellini completed the hat trick with just 4:18 left. Kyle Okposo’s shot hit off backup netminder Patrick Lalime and was trickling back towards the goal line before Tambellini pushed it through.
Gordon said it’s taken Tambellini time to find a way to consistently beat higher-caliber goaltending and produce like he did for the Islanders’ minor league-affiliate
Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
“It’s a hard thing when you’ve had success in the past to know you can get by on your shot alone if you get to the right places on the perimeter,” Gordon said. “His shot is going to beat a lot of American League goalies but the goalies are so good in the NHL and the time and space is a lot different.
“Now, he’s getting himself to the
front of the net.”
Tambellini will have another chance to make an impression on his father when the Islanders host Edmonton Monday night. The Oilers enter with a 7-6-1 record.
“We felt like we had a good team to start the year,” Tambellini said. “We felt like we can make a real stride from last year. This puts us back on the map and right in the thick of things in the East.”