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Solid road trip has Islanders back in hunt

Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 12:58 AM / NHL Insider

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Solid road trip has Islanders back in hunt
The New York Islanders, who secured only three victories between Oct. 15 and Nov. 17, are suddenly back in business after going 3-0-1 on a four-game road trip
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It's amazing how a solid road trip can change your outlook on things.

The New York Islanders, who secured only three victories between Oct. 15 and Nov. 17, are suddenly back in the mix after going 3-0-1 on a four-game road trip. New York picked up wins in New Jersey, Buffalo and Dallas and suffered a shootout loss at Chicago to earn 7 of a possible 8 points.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Isles' recent surge? They didn't receive a single goal from No. 1 center John Tavares, who hasn't scored since an empty-net tally against Washington on Nov. 5. However, the first pick from the 2009 NHL Draft does have 5 assists over the last two games.

"It can be frustrating, but it's a lot more fun when we're winning and that's the ultimate goal for everybody," said Tavares, who last beat a goaltender on Oct. 29 against San Jose. "As much as I want to contribute that way, I think it's good to see us get back on track. Hopefully we can take advantage of these few games at home and build off of last week." 

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Indeed, the Islanders can claw closer to playoff contention with three home matches this week. New York will host Tampa Bay on Tuesday before the Blackhawks come to town Thursday night. The homestand concludes on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Islanders (8-11-5) are 8 points behind eighth-place Ottawa in the Eastern Conference, but the Isles have three games in hand on the Senators, who earned a 4-2 win against Tampa Bay on Monday night.

The atmosphere at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Monday morning was a far cry when compared to just a couple of weeks ago. The Islanders were mired in a November that was remarkably similar to the one they experienced a season ago, when a 10-game winless streak cost Scott Gordon his coaching job.

But things started to take somewhat of a turn on Nov. 23, when the Isles suffered a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, a loss that had followed back-to-back shutouts at the hands of Boston and Pittsburgh, respectively. The Isles were blanked on home ice for the fifth time this season two days later in a 1-0 loss to New Jersey, but they haven't lost in regulation since. Twenty-four hours after that aforementioned loss to the Devils, the Isles won their first road game of the season with a 3-2 victory at New Jersey.

"We weren't getting the results that we wanted, but you look back to the Philly game and even the Jersey game, I thought we played good enough to win those games," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "It's coming. They're working. It's still a process. For us to win games, there's no question that we have to play structured hockey. We have to play within the team concept if we're going to have success."

Matt Moulson has enjoyed plenty of success during his team's recent run. The 28-year-old winger was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after tallying 4 goals in Saturday night's 5-4 win at Dallas. Moulson, who skates alongside Tavares on the top line, had 7 goals overall during the Isles' four-game road trip.

"I think the biggest thing is our attitude and how we approach different situations in the game," Moulson said of his club's turnaround. "Maybe earlier in the season, something bad would happen and we'd hang our heads a little bit and feel sorry for ourselves. But that's not the case anymore. I think that no matter what happens in the game, we keep coming. That might have been the best thing that happened to us for the rest of the season was going through a stretch like that. We're lucky we were able to cut it shorter than we have in previous years. We just have a real positive outlook on the rest of the season."

Saturday was clear evidence of the Isles' change in attitude. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Stars roared back with three goals against Rick DiPietro in a span of 2:03 in the second period to tie things up. Already armed with two goals on the night, Moulson scored twice more before the end of the period as New York held a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes. A groin injury sidelined DiPietro for the third period, but Al Montoya stopped all 13 shots he faced to cap a very successful trip.

"I just like the way that we're responding when things don't go our way," Tavares said. "We get a goal scored against and we seem to respond real well. We're handling that much better than I think we were. We're playing with a little bit more confidence with the lead or in tight situations, especially late in games."
 
Capuano feels much of that can be attributed to just how hard his team has worked over the past two weeks. Now, the hope is the new attitude made its way home.

"The one thing we can control is our work ethic, and that's the only thing we're trying to focus on," Capuano said. "We don't focus on winning games when we go into a game. We focus on the process and what we have to do. The last few games, we've done that.

"Mentally, I feel the bench is strong and that's what you need -- strong leadership -- in the room and on the bench when you face adversity. That's the one thing that I see with our team right now."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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