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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Monday morning at Iceworks, head coach Scott Gordon had the team practicing with a drill that is seemingly counterintuitive. While practicing the power play, as well as some five-on-five action inside the offensive zone, Gordon had the four or five players on defense practicing with the butt-end of their stick pointed down towards the ice and their blade pointed up in the air. What is this reversal about?

“Defensively we’re working on positioning and then offensively we’re just trying to get a little dirtier by getting some bodies in front of the net, screening the goaltender and causing a little more traffic,” said Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau.

Scoring only five goals in their last five games (while their opposition has scored 19 goals), the Islanders have hit a rut in the scoring department. This drill was designed to make the team think and pressure the goaltender.

“We need to create more traffic in front of the net,” said Islanders center John Tavares. “We need to make it harder for other teams to stop the puck when we are trying to score. We’re not scoring very much right now, so we’ve got to find ways to put it in. One way is to get to the net, cause some chaos, a little bit of havoc for the goalie, and put in some dirty ones.”

While the players practicing offense are given the advantage because it’s harder for the defensive players to steal the puck, Coach Gordon really wanted to drive home that the team needs to be better in all areas of their game.

The players practicing defense were also learning a lot.

“Especially for me, it’s not a lot of fun because I like to handle the puck,” said Tavares about practicing his defensive game. “But it helps you focus on playing defense a little more; playing the body. It’s a good change from the game to develop your skills at taking the body instead of watching the puck.”

Watching the puck is never a good idea because that’s how players get burned. Instead, Gordon wanted to make sure his players were watching the body movements of the offense and that they were getting a little physical by taking the body because reading the body allows you to be one step ahead of the play.

“It’s more so you can focus on body positioning, not relying on your stick,” said Mottau. “You need to be in good position because when your stick’s turned over, you can’t poke the puck as easily. If you’re in good position with your body between the net and the puck, then you’re in a better spot to defend.”

As the Islanders go out on the road, flipping their sticks on their head might be exactly what the club needs to get back on track.
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