Joey MacDonald came into the 2008-09 season just thrilled to have his first one-way NHL contract. With Rick DiPietro
in net, MacDonald was ready to play the role as back-up. There was a good chance that MacDonald may have seen action in as few as 10-15 games this season.
But things changed for MacDonald when DiPietro wasn't ready to go at the beginning of the season, and then required surgery on his knee. That has left the door open for the Nova Scotia-native, who had only seen 15 NHL games prior to this season. And so far, MacDonald has been up to the task, proving all of his doubters wrong.
"Coming in, I wasn't sure what the game plan was," said MacDonald. "Playing a few games in a row you get to build on your last game. If I had a good game last game, then I need to get better for the next game."
Following the team's slow start, MacDonald has been the catalyst behind the recent Islanders’ turnaround. Following a 2-4-1 start to the season, MacDonald has gone 5-2-1 in his past eight games, including a 2-1 shootout victory over Vancouver on Monday night. In all but one of those contests, MacDonald has allowed three or fewer goals. And MacDonald has had to work hard for the wins. Over the past eight games, the Islanders have allowed an average of 32.8 shots per game. MacDonald's save percentage in that span has been an impressive .935.
Coinciding with MacDonald's increase in confidence has been the team's progress with learning Head Coach Scott Gordon's "Overspeed" system. While MacDonald may not have to partake too much in learning the system, he has noticed the team's effectiveness at picking it up as the season has progressed.
"Over the last three or four games it's been working," said MacDonald of the team's system. "The first few games everyone was just trying to get used to it. And some of the older guys had never done it before are starting to get used to it. Over the last few games we see that it works. Everybody has to buy into it, including myself. Everyone has to work together in order for it to work. When it does work we spend more time in the offensive zone and the neutral zone. But when the puck is in our zone, everybody works together to break the puck out. It's a five-man unit supporting the puck."
With an injury-depleted defense, the Islanders have had to make due dressing a different blueline nearly every night. In the team's first 17 games, 10 defensemen have played in at least three games.
"Playing with different defensemen each game has been a lot easier than I figured," said MacDonald. "We had some young guys come in and do well. Pock and Skinner have come in and both played really well. Now that we have Martinek back, it's huge. He so confident back and you know Sutton is going to block a ton of shots every night. I have a lot of confidence in our defensemen and they have a lot of confidence in me now. That always helps too."
A major difference between MacDonald's style of play and DiPietro's is their puck-handling ability. DiPietro is one of the best goaltenders in the game at serving as the team's third defenseman, while MacDonald is more conservative when going out to play the puck. Instead of looking for the long breakout pass, he generally elects to leave it behind the goal for his defense.
"It's just an adjustment you make," said Sutton. "With Ricky you want to try to be more of an outlet and with Joey we try to skate to him because he likes to leave the puck for us or he'll let it go. We have to hustle back a little more. There's a little more onus on us to play the puck, but it's really just changing your mindset going in. Joey is very talkative out there as far as what to do. And if you make a big block he'll let you know with a 'great job' or 'great block.' He's very vocal and every little bit helps." Watch IslandersTV
Post-Game Raw from the Islanders' 3-2 win over Ottawa on Saturday, featuring Joey MacDonald.