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Game Preview: Islanders @ Capitals

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The New York Islanders kick-off the month of March in the backend of a home-and-home against the Capitals on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. And, although they ended the month of February with three close losses, the Islanders posted their best monthly record of this season going 8-5-1.

“I think we’re playing good,” Islanders forward PA Parenteau said. “But it has to transfer into wins. It’s been our problem all year. We get away from what’s working for like 10 or 15 minutes in a game and we lose the game there. I think we have to work on that. That’s a sign of a young team, but we have to get better at that. That’s what’s going to help us in the future.”

Saturday night the Islanders dropped a 3-2 decision to the Caps, who rallied back from a 2-0 deficit after the first period.

P.A. Parenteau #15 of the New York Islanders skates against the Washington Capitals at the Nassau Coliseum on February 26, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Capitals defeated the Islanders 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“I think against Washington, we had a seven or eight minute lapse in the second period, which can cost you the game,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “When you can put a team away – especially like the Capitals, who have the skill level that they have – the third goal was huge. If we could have gotten that goal, it might have been a different story. They got that one, make it a one goal deficit, and then they start cranking it up, and they have some pretty good skill.”

In order to defeat the Capitals, defenseman Andrew MacDonald said that they just need to finish their opportunities – something the Islanders had a plenty in the first 20 minutes of play.

“Aside from a couple of the goals, we were pretty defensively sound, we didn’t give them much,” MacDonald said. “You look at their skill on the power play, their ranking isn’t that good, but on any given night, if they turn it on, they can pile in the goals. It’s got to be a similar game to how we played last game, but we can’t let up for any period of time.”

While earning wins and making playoff are part of every team’s goals, Capuano knows how young the Islanders roster is this season and he has looked at his time with the big club as a learning year.

“It’s a young team,” Capuano said. “We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to try to win some hockey games down the stretch. We don’t lose sight of the teaching or development part of what we’re trying to do or what goals we’re trying to reach by the end of the season. Just kind of keeping focused on the system, but at the same time, continuing to teach.”

That’s why, even at the end of February, the Isles continued to work and tweak their power play during practice. Even though the Islanders led the entire National Hockey League in scoring in the month of February (with 53 goals), only nine of their goals were scored on the power play.

“I thought against Washington it was good,” Capuano said about the power play. “Our first power play that we had, we were dynamic, we were creative, we were moving the puck around pretty well.”

Capuano continued, “Second period we went into a little bit of a lapse there. Just to make sure they understand that’s a crucial point in the game too. We just had a couple different units, working around some different looks. When you get a little bit of practice time, you want to make sure you capitalize on that time and use it correctly.”

In recent games, Capuano moved Michael Grabner to the point on the Islanders top power play unit with MacDonald.

Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders tries to gain control of the puck as he's being watched by Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals on February 26, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“(Grabner) is a skilled guy, he’s quick,” Capuano explained. “If we can get him to the middle of the ice, he’s quick to get there and it opens up some of the big ice on the left or right side on the weak side. He can get pucks to the net with his quick shot. And I’m not afraid to put him back there because of his speed too. Sometimes when you see a forward back on the power play, some guys smell blood and they want to take advantage of that. But he’s got good speed and he’s good defensively, so I’m not afraid to use him.”

As Grabner gets used to his new role on the power play, Isles defensemen Ty Wishart and Mark Katic have been thrust into the fire with more playing time than they've expected.

“Guys are getting opportunities that they probably thought they wouldn’t get if you asked them at the start of the year,” MacDonald said. “It’s pretty crazy how many defensemen we’ve gone through. I don’t think it’s fazed anyone or made anyone too nervous or anything. Guys are stepping in and filling the roles.”

Trade News
While former-Islanders center Rob Schremp was claimed off of waivers by the Atlanta Thrashers during the Islanders practice at Nassau Coliseum on Monday morning, Trade Deadline Day was rather quiet for the franchise. Capuano said his team wasn’t distracted.

“Today was one of our best practices we’ve had, so I’d have to say it wasn’t too much of a distraction,” Capuano said. “Guys follow it obviously before they get on (the ice) and after practice because they have a lot of friends in the league and they want to see who’s doing what, but we had a good skate today. It’s a business and guys know that so I think they can accept the changes that are made throughout the league.”
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