UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Islanders captain John Tavares had the puck on his stick late in overtime, hesitated to force Washington defenseman Karl Alzner out of position, then whipped the puck past goaltender Braden Holtby as New York won another nail-biter.
“When I got it there, I had a good feeling their defense was in a tough spot,” said Tavares, who heard chants of ‘MVP, MVP’ from the sellout crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum. “I kind of froze them and created an angle. It felt good to see it go in.”
The 3-2 victory Nov. 26 night over the Capitals was the fifth straight for the Islanders and moved them to 16-6-0. They’ve won 10 of 11 to tie Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division, though the Penguins have a game in hand.
The goal was the ninth this season for Tavares, set up on a cross-ice feed from Ryan Strome. It came at 4:36 with two seconds left on a penalty to Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom for holding the stick.
Tavares was mobbed by teammates as roars cascaded down from the rafters. New York is 8-2-0 at home thus far in their final season on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn in 2015.
The Islanders also won for the seventh time in extra time — twice in overtime. Coach Jack Capuano had a hard time explaining why his team is perfect past regulation — though five of the victories are in shootouts.
New York had all five shots in overtime. “All I can say is that guys want the puck on their sticks in those stages of the game,” he said.
The Islanders have set a franchise record by winning 16 of their first 22 games.
Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves for his eighth straight win. He has allowed only 10 goals in those eight wins.
“Everyone has played well for us,” added Tavares, who leads the team with 21 points. “At any point in time, any guy can step up. And obviously Jaro is playing great. We just want to keep it going.”
Anders Lee and Travis Hamonic scored first-period goals for the Islanders, while Alex Ovechkin scored two power-play goals for the Capitals in his 700th NHL game. “We played a great game, but they got a power play in overtime and that was the difference,” Ovechkin said.
New York is 10-2 in November. Last season the Islanders were 4-10-1 during the month and didn’t win their 16th game until Jan. 7. The boisterous home crowd certainly provides a boost.
“We can all feel it on the bench,” Capuano said. “The energy is awesome.”
The Capitals (9-8-4) have been inconsistent under new coach Barry Trotz, the team’s fourth coach in four seasons, and fell behind early.
Lee opened the scoring at 5:11, tapping a rebound past Holtby for his fourth goal. Strome and Brock Nelson assisted.
Ovechkin tied the game at 1-1 at 13:46 of the first on a one-timer from the left circle for his 10th of the season. He scored again at 18:47 of the second to tie the game again after Lee received an extra two minutes for roughing during a fight with Washington’s Tom Wilson. The goal was the 433rd for the Russian forward.
Hamonic had given New York a 2-1 lead at 17:38 of the first with a power-play goal off assists from Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. The Islanders have 12 goals from their defense this season. They had 23 goals from the defense all of last season.
The Islanders, coming off a 1-0 home shootout win over Philadelphia on Dec. 1, improved to 8-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents and are 10-1-0 in games decided by a single goal.
The teams complete a home-and-home series in Washington on Nov. 28. “I think the next game will be different for them and for us as well,” Ovechkin said.