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GAME PREVIEW: ISLANDERS AT HURRICANES

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
After starting the season 4-1-2, placing them at the top of Eastern Conference standings, the Islanders have lost four straight games. The team that has taken the League by surprise has trouble producing points. As a result, Tuesday's practice at Iceworks was based solely around shooting the puck and improving the power play. Long after practice was over, many players stayed on the ice to take shots on net.


There have been many different issues that have factored into the Islanders recent losses, but center Frans Nielsen chalked it up to not being prepared to play the game at puck drop.

"I don't know why (we haven't been ready), but we've just got to be ready when the game starts," Nielsen said. "It's tough when you get behind every time and you have to fight back. We have to find a way to be ready when the puck gets dropped and just compete hard for 60 minutes. Go back to basics, play simple, work hard, and that's how we win our games."

The Islanders, who boarded a plane to Raleigh, North Carolina on Tuesday afternoon, will do their best to be ready to play a full 60 minutes as they faceoff against the Hurricanes on Wednesday evening at the RBC Center. Currently, the Canes have also had a string of bad luck as they were blanked 3-0 at home on Saturday by Pittsburgh, fell 3-2 in Philadelphia on Monday and now hold a 5-6-0 record.

The Islanders had a 2-2-0 record against the Canes last season, including an overtime win at the RBC Center. However, the Isles could not produce in their last two games against the Canes. The Islanders most recent loss at the RBC Center came on January 28, 2010 as the Islanders didn't convert on either of two Carolina penalties and they outshot the Canes 27-23.

While playing a full 60 minutes may be a part of the issue, Islanders head coach Scott Gordon said that two different things have factored into the team's recent scoring drought. He pointed out that the team has had their share of injuries with some of the Islanders top forwards and power play defensemen missing time.

"Some players lose some sharpness when they've been out for a week," Gordon said. "There's a little bit of not having our team together very much and as a result, our timing is a little off. (We're) in the wrong places at the wrong times and I think that will get better as we start to get more healthy and we get a little more practice time."

Most recently, the Islanders faced the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers. In those games, the Isles had more shots on goal than their opponent, but the team just hasn't been able to cash in on their chances.

"Against Montreal, we had a lot of pressure, a lot of offensive zone time, but we had 16 quality chances, and on eight we missed the net," Gordon said. "They don't get registered as a shot, but they are good chances."

"Against Philadelphia, the goalie made some pretty good saves," Gordon continued. "It's a 6-1 game, that doesn't mean the goalie didn't have a good game. I think our announcers even made the comment (that) he was probably their best player. You know, unfortunately for us, we dug ourselves a hole, and he was playing well. And there wasn't a whole lot for us at the end of that game."

In the Islanders last two games they have been 0 for 12 on the power play, while they were able to produce two goals out of four chances in the first game of the home-and-home series with Montreal. When facing the Canes last season, the Islanders only tallied twice on the power play in 15 opportunities, including five failed chances in their final game against the club.

Scoring while they have a man advantage has been a huge part of their offensive strategy as they have scored 13 of 31 goals on the power play this season. When they have failed to tally a point on the power play, it has undoubtedly hurt the team's standings.

As a result, Gordon had the players practicing the power play on the small rink at Iceworks in order to make the players' reaction time quicker. This way, when it's game time, the Islanders power play unit will have the extra second to make the play.

"We've got to get back to basics," Nielsen said. "We need to block shots and every time we get the puck, we need to get the puck out of the defensive zone. And then on the PP, we need guys to get in there, get some more shots and just keep it simple. When the small plays don't work out you just have to play simple."

But for now, Gordon said, "If we keep doing the right things, we're going to end up scoring."

The team is definitely looking to turn their record around. Like anyone, they don't like losing and it's about time they find a way to win.

"It's never fun losing, Nielsen said. "We talked about it (Monday) morning. Right now, we're one point out of the playoffs, three points out of the division lead. We can't feel sorry for ourselves right now. We've got to get back on our horse because even though we just lost four games, we're still there. We just have to turn this around now. With all the road games we have coming, we need to start winning a few games, get back home and put a winning streak together again."
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