The Islanders started their first game of a five-game homestand on the right foot – putting 41 shots en route to a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night. But now, the team’s thoughts are on what’s ahead, and next up are the St. Louis Blues, who sit just nine points out of the Western Conference race.
“St. Louis is a good team,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “I watched them last night against Washington. They’ve had some changes to their lineup, but they’re a dangerous team and a desperate team.”
That’s right, after losing six of their last seven games, the Blues will be looking to end their slump in Saturday’s matinee. Two weeks ago, St. Louis was on the heat of the playoff race, just five points behind the seventh seed.
|John Madden #11 of the Minnesota Wild tries to get away from a check by Matt Moulson #26 of the New York Islanders on March 2, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Despite making a trade that saw the Blues acquire Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in exchange for Jay McClement and Erik Johnson, the team’s record has been on the slide. Since then, they’ve started to fall off and have now lost six of their last seven games.
Capuano’s familiarity with Blues head coach Davis Payne’s coaching style will hopefully help the Isles deliver the Blues their fourth straight loss. Payne replaced Capuano as the head coach of the Pee Dee Pride of the ECHL during the 2000-01 season, but Capuano remained as the team’s general manager until 2005.
While both coaches have graduated from the ECHL to the National Hockey League, Capuano has continued to scout each team he’s up against by watching hours of video and he knows just what to expect from St. Louis when they come in to town.
“We know the up-tempo system that they’re going to play,” Capuano said. “The will come hard, that’s no different from Minnesota coming hard and the teams that we’ve played that want to attack, but we have to do the same thing. You’re going to do it to them or they’re going to do it to us so we have to make sure that we’re ready to match their intensity level.”
Since the All-Star Break, the Islanders have been better at playing a full 60 minutes. But playing on home ice is an added advantage, especially since the attendance has been dramatically on the rise. Their home game on Feb. 26th was the team’s first sellout of the season.
“It’s been fun,” Nielsen said about the increased attendance. “We played one of our better games against Washington at home (in front of a sell-out crowd). Unfortunately we ended up losing but for sure, you could see the first two periods how hard everybody was working and the crowd played a factor on that. It’s always a little extra and a little more fun when it’s so loud out there.”
Islanders forward Matt Moulson
agreed. “Personally I like it,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun in the building when there are a lot of people here. We’ve had a real good turnout lately, and it’s been a lot of fun. There’s a lot of energy. It gets pretty loud and rowdy. Our fans have done a good job of coming out. When it gets loud, it gets pretty loud in here.”
While attendance at Nassau Coliseum has played a factor in the team’s energy, their playoff livelihood hasn’t hurt. The young team knows that they need to win as many games as possible from this point forward in a last chance effort to make the playoffs this season.
“We have to be ready,” Nielsen said. “We came out last game and got that first goal. We have to make sure to work and to be just as hungry as they are. We have to jump on them. When you play at home, you want to come out strong and you want to get the momentum right away. We just have to make sure we never get out worked, especially in our own building. The guys have a lot of confidence and we are having a lot of fun out there. Hopefully we can win tomorrow.”
Wining is definitely more than a possibility. Since the All-Star Break, the Islanders have played some great hockey and the team has posted some of the best numbers of any other team in the league.
|John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders skates against the Minnesota Wild at the Nassau Coliseum on March 2, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Wild 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
Nielsen’s play along with his linemates Kyle Okposo
and Michael Grabner
has been on the media’s radar, but the Islanders first overall draft pick in 2009, John Tavares
, has quietly lead the team in assists (12) and ties Grabner for the team lead in points (17).
“He works hard in both ends,” Moulson said about his linemate. “Playing well defensively and being good down low leads to good transition and good offensive chances, and he knows that. I think he’s done a good job of that.”
Tavares has also recorded a +3 ranking since the break.
“Johnny (Tavares) for me, he probably could have quite a few more points,” Capuano said. “He’s rang the crossbar and the post quite a few times and he’s getting great chances. But for me, in the last month his defensive play has really picked up.”
Capuano continued, “He’s really one of those guys now that just like Fransie (Nielsen), they want to be the guys that you can count on, whether it’s for a goal or in the last minute of a hockey game to hold the lead. Johnny (Tavares) is really concentrating on his defensive play and it’s creating some offense for him. He’s working extremely hard and he’s getting opportunities.”
Thus, you can forget about the sophomore slump. Tavares is well on his way to shattering his career-high in points. The team has 17 games left in the regular season and his team-leading 53 points are just one point shy of his 54-point freshman season.