The New York Islanders are already guaranteed to end their five-game homestand above .500, with a 3-0-1 record heading into Friday night’s game against the Boston Bruins. But the young Long Island squad hopes to close the run on a high note with a regulation win (and two more points) over the Northeast Division-leading Bruins.
The Islanders have a tough road ahead, though. The tilt with the B’s is just the first half of the Islanders 16th back-to-back series this season. Immediately after playing their 69th game, the Isles will head onto the road to face their division rivals, the New Jersey Devils. They are also the only team in the Islanders previous four games to steal two points as the game came to end in the sixth round of a shootout loss.
“Boston has been one of the best teams in the NHL all year and New Jersey has had the best record in the league since Christmas,” power forward Matt Martin
said. “It’s going to be a good test for us, but we’ve been playing really good hockey and hopefully we can come away with a couple wins.”
|Matt Martin #17 of the New York Islanders skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Nassau Coliseum on March 8, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Leafs 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) |
While every point counts, the Islanders hope to close the two-point gap separating them from the Devils and the 10 points separating them from the eighth-seeded Buffalo Sabres.
“Every team that we play, it’s going to be a battle,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “Everybody is driving for the playoffs. We have to make sure that we’re on top of our game, that we do the right things at the right time and we have to have consistency in our game.”
Consistency is important. Capuano talked about the lackadaisical approach of the defense in the Islanders 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but said that in other games, the opposite has been true. Finding a working combination of the two, getting the five-man unit working together, will be the most important thing.
“There were spurts in our last couple games where we were really good and we were really bad,” Capuano said. “Hopefully we can learn from that and move forward.”
Capuano continued, “We made some reads that were uncharacteristic. We didn’t move the puck extremely well with our first pass and our gap wasn’t very good. There were a lot of things in that game. Prior to that game, if it wasn’t for our defensemen, we probably wouldn’t have won a few games because our forwards were so-so. But we’re a good unit when we play as a unit of five every time we’re on the ice.”
Even though there have been breakdowns from time to time, Martin said that the Islanders have really grown together over the course of the season and their attitude at the rink, inside the locker room and on the ice has been crucial to the Islanders resiliency this season.
“I think we’ve just grown as a unit,” Martin said. “Obviously there were a lot of different faces in here earlier in the year and there was a tough time when we lost 20 of 21 games. It wasn’t an easy time. Guys were getting frustrated.”
Martin continued, “But as a young team, we’re starting to believe that we can win games and everyone is really close in here. We’re a big family. We’re enjoying it and we’re having a lot of fun winning games.”
|Micheal Haley #59 of the New York Islanders plays the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the game on March 6, 2011 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Andy Marlin/AM Photography/Getty Images) |
That’s definitely the right kind of attitude to have during the home stretch of the regular season, but it’s even more important when playing a physical team like Boston. Martin made an extremely valid point, talking about the changed identity of the Islanders team.
He said, “Boston is just a team that is so physical. They’re going to try to scare you away, but we’ve really changed the identity of this team and we’re starting to get a lot of team toughness. We’re standing up for each other and that’s important.”
Thinking about team toughness, not only has Martin stepped up and dropped the gloves, but as his ice time has grown with the introduction to his new linemates Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey
, the physicality of his play has also increased.
“I think the physical part of the game really helps me in all areas of my game,” Martin said. “You make more room for yourself, for your linemates and I just try to get to the net. Good things are going to happen when you hang around the net.”
Martin set an Islanders season high of 14 hits on Tuesday night, while rookies Micheal Haley
and Justin DiBenedetto
have gotten to the gritty areas, made game-changing hits and have taken heat and dropped the gloves.
Thus, Martin continued, “You see the best teams in the league, the Boston’s and the Philadelphia’s, they all stand up for each other and they all play tough. They all have a lot of pride wearing the jersey and you’re starting to see that now with our team.”
So when the puck drops for the start of the game on Friday night, it’s going to be something to watch.
“It’s going to be a good test for our hockey club Friday night (against Boston),” Martin said. “Hopefully we come away with two points.”