A constant target of criticism due to his bloated contract and lack of production, Alexei Yashin is answering back in the best way.
One of the league's elite players for seven seasons with Ottawa, Yashin failed to reach that level in his first four years with the Islanders. The 10-year, $87.5 million contract he signed with New York made him an easy target for media and fans frustrated with a team that hasn't won a playoff round since 1993.
New coach Ted Nolan made getting Yashin back to the form he displayed with the Senators his top priority this season, and he appears to have succeeded so far.
Yashin tops the Islanders with 19 points, is among the team leaders at plus-four and has been a consistent presence each night. He scored two goals as New York responded to Nolan's criticism after consecutive losses with a 3-1 victory at Philadelphia on Thursday.
"I think the great attribute Ted has is his ability to motivate or communicate with the players, and Alexei has been a perfect example of what Ted has brought to the team," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. "He's been our best player by far."
While Yashin's offense is the most obvious factor, Snow cites his play away from the puck as well.
"He's leading by example, by finishing his checks and playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder," he said. "When he brings that to the table, it makes him a dominant player."
While the Islanders were sharp in their first game since Nolan said his team seemed to quit in a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay, the schedule was kind to present the struggling Flyers. Nolan will get a better sense of where his team stands against the Stars, one of the league's top teams.
"I was concerned with our effort the last couple of games, but I wasn't concerned with the people we have here," Nolan said. "They're a good group of guys, but we have to make sure we're on them a little bit and don't take anything for granted."
Yashin has been getting plenty of help from speedy forward Jason Blake, the team leader with eight goals, but right wing Miroslav Satan, who had a team-high 35 goals in 2005-06, has only two this season.
Rick DiPietro, also an easy target for criticism because of his recently signed 15-year contract, rebounded from a poor showing in a loss to Atlanta with a strong 32-save performance against the Flyers. He won his only career start against the Stars, 4-1 on Nov. 6, 2003.
Dallas returns home after splitting a four-game trip that concluded Thursday with a 1-0 victory over Phoenix. Marty Turco needed to make only 13 saves for his 25th career shutout and Brenden Morrow's power-play goal in the second period was all the offense he needed.
"I love watching our guys go to work when they're playing well and really committed to defense," Turco said. "We didn't spend much time in our zone and that's a big tribute to them."
Although his team owns one of the league's best records, Stars coach Dave Tippett is concerned with his team's recent lack of scoring.
Dallas averaged 3.2 goals per game during its 8-1 start, but has been limited to 2.3 while compiling a 4-3 mark in its past seven contests.
"There is such a fine line between winning and losing in this league, and you have to stay on the right side of that fine line," Tippett said. "Just recently we were on the wrong side of that line and we ended up losing two games. Earlier, we were on the right side and things were much easier."
The Islanders have four wins and a tie in their last five meetings with the Stars. The teams haven't met since playing to a 4-4 draw at Dallas on Feb. 11, 2004.