UNIONDALE, NY— Fans filled the green Nassau Coliseum seats to capacity for just the second time this season Monday afternoon when the Islanders hosted the Devils.
The previous sellout came in the opener when John Tavares made his NHL debut against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. While the glamour level wasn’t the same for a matinee against New Jersey, the Islanders picked up a vital two points against the Atlantic Division leaders by thrashing the Devils, 4-0.
Matt Moulson galvanized the throngs with a game-opening backhand goal just 1:07 in. That marked the first of Moulson’s two goals as the Isles posted a 46-20 shot advantage in helping Rick DiPietro record his first shutout in almost two years.
Moulson’s pair helped the Islanders post a four game winning streak while encompassing the club’s sixth victory in seven games.
“They haven’t been easy wins,” Moulson said. “We’ve worked for everything we’ve gotten. We’re just trying to play every team the same. That’s the goal right now.”
DiPietro’s second win in three days was the best news for the
resurgent Islanders. After missing almost
four months coming back from knee injuries, the netminder looked sharp in responding to a 31-save effort against Buffalo on Saturday.
But Moulson’s effort is also a vital part of the Islanders playoff push. The 26-year-old has a team-high 19 goals thanks to a stretch of three goals in the past three games.
That slump-busting effort negated a 10-game goal-less streak that stretched through the second half of December. No surprise that the Islanders went 4-5-1 in that stretch and have seen their success rate go up proportionally with the left winger’s reemerging scoring touch.
“During training camp, we wanted to be in position to be in the playoffs,” Moulson said. “Everybody believed we were capable of this.”
Moulson is just one goal away from becoming the first Islander to crack the 20-goal mark since
2008. He is on pace for 28 goals, which would be the highest single-season total since Jason Blake’s 40-goal output in 2006-07.
Not surprisingly, 2007 was the last time the Islanders qualified for the postseason. Moulson carries another similarity to Blake. Like the speedy winger, Moulson was a fledging player for Los Angeles before developing into a goal scorer on Long Island.
Moulson scored six goals in 29 career games the past two seasons for the Kings. But that didn’t stop coach Scott Gordon from taking the advice of the front office and offering the North York, Ontario native a chance to earn regular playing time in training camp.
Gordon called him in the summer and sold him on the idea of being part of a young nucleus that includes Tavares, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo.
“The reality is he could have gone to another organization and found a spot to be a top-six guy, but it would be pretty hard,” Gordon said. “But with our team, it was a situation that would provide him with the most opportunity if he had a good camp, which he did.”
Moulson scored 21 or more goals in all three seasons he played for the Kings’ AHL Manchester team. His numbers were simply a continuation of a successful college career in which the 6-0, 210-pound forward scored 71 goals in 134 games for Cornell.
Despite succeeding at every lower level, Moulson’s first opportunity to play a full NHL season didn’t come until he impressed Gordon in the summer. Even while toiling in the minors, Moulson said the chance to play and record All-Star caliber numbers at the highest level motivated him.
“Earlier on I was kind of naïve and believed my chance would come as long as I kept working,” Moulson said. “Thankfully it happened with this organization.”