A boost of confidence, following a chat with his coach, went a long way for New York Islanders rookie Mike Watt.
Snapping a 32-game goal-less drought, Watt scored the go-ahead goal as the Islanders ended an eight-game winless skid with a 3-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks in Friday night's battle of last-place teams.
"I've had a lot of chances and the way things have been going with our team and the (trade) rumors surrounding it, it's just nice that I got a chance to go out and get a goal. That helped me out quite a bit," said Watt, acquired last summer in a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
Watt, struggling with his confidence and not getting a lot of playing time, said he was bolstered following a recent chat with coach Bill Stewart.
"He told me to finish my checks, take my shots, make my plays when I can. He gave me a lot of confidence in my game where I think I was lacking," Watt said.
Stewart was impressed enough to keep sending Watt out on the ice with game on the line in the third period.
"The kid's played very well for us. It's nice to see people get rewarded that work very hard. He's a first-year player but we're looking for Mike Watt to step in and do a bigger job for us down the road," said Stewart.
With the game tied 1-1, Watt was in the right place at the right time to score set up by some gritty work from teammate Claude Lapointe.
Lapointe set up the play creating a turnover by pushing Vancouver defenseman Ed Jovanovski off the puck 20-feet in front of the Canucks net. Spinning around, Lapointe fed a pass to Watt, who snapped a shot that beat goalie Kevin Weekes on the glove side with 5:20 left in the second period.
Bryan Smolinski sealed the win, scoring with 2:03 left in regulation as the Islanders (0-6-2 in their last eight) also beat the Canucks for the first time in five meetings. With the win, the Isles moved to within two poits of the Canucks, who own the league's third-worst record.
Lapointe finished with two assists. Mark Lawrence also scored for New York while goalie Wade Flaherty stopped 21 shots to win his first game since he defeated Boston 4-2 on Dec. 26.
Flaherty's biggest stop came with 2:34 left in the second period when he got his blocker on a shot to foil Darby Hendrickson on a breakaway chance.
Markus Naslund's team-leading 35th goal was the only score for the Canucks, who lost their its third straight and are 0-5-1 in their last six home games.
A testy Canucks coach Marc Crawford summed up the loss, saying, "It wasn't our finest hour."
Asked what reason Canucks fans need to attend the last few home games, Crawford said, "It's a valid point that the fans have been very, very supportive of this team. There's a lot of nights you can question if we deserve their support."
"As coaches and players we have to make sure that we guard against frustration and try to accomplish the things that makes us the team that are going to make us the team that everyone wants us to be."
The Canucks are also plagued with injuries, as they were missing four regulars, including captain Mark Messier (MCL sprain) and first-line forward Todd Bertuzzi (torn ACL).
Showing their lack of depth, the Canucks squandered three third-period power-play opportunities, including a two-man advantage situation that lasted 17 seconds. Alexander Mogilny had the best scoring chance when he had Flaherty down only to have his shot blocked by Islander Zdeno Chara.
The Islanders buckled down defensively in the third period, limiting the Canucks to only six shots.
The game marked Trevor Linden's second visit to Vancouver since the former Canuck captain and fan-favorite was dealt to the Islanders in a three-player deal last season. A rare sign allowed to hang from a GM Place balcony greeted Linden while taking a poke at Messier, reading, "TREV it's been a MESS since you left."
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