Just two games in to the regular season and the Islanders have proven that they will be contenders this year by earning three out of a possible four points in their first two games of the season against the Dallas Stars and cross-town rival New York Rangers. But right out of the gates, the Islanders season gets tough as they hit the road for 12 out of the next 15 games.
It’s crucial we have some good games and still play our game on the road. I think one of our goals is to definitely be a better road team so this is a good challenge for us. - Josh Bailey
“They’re big games for us,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey
. “I mean it’s pretty easy to fall out of it and these are points we need. I’ve learned over the past two years that even though it’s early in the season, the points mean just as much as they do at the end of the year. So it’s crucial we have some good games and still play our game on the road. I think one of our goals is to definitely be a better road team so this is a good challenge for us.”
Not only is it harder to win on the road, but the first of those games will be played against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night at the Consol Energy Center.
The next two Islanders games are going to be tough, but head coach Scott Gordon said it best when he said, “We have to make sure that we carry the same emotion that we had in the home games on the road and have the same mindset. It’s never easy to play on the road and it’s certainly not easy with the teams we have to play, but I think we’re going on to the road with some confidence and we just have to make sure that we carry it through.”
With names such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in their respective lineups, the Capitals and the Penguins are a teams that rank amongst the top of the league each season, making their way into the playoffs with offensive lines most teams don’t even come close to measuring up to.
“With those two teams it’s about making sure that you eliminate as many chances offensively from their top guns – Crosby and Ovechkin, Malkin and Semin – and if we can do that and stay out of the penalty box, you’re going to give yourself the best chance to succeed,” said Gordon.
Having played 211 games with the Capitals over the past four seasons, Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina
knows first hand how strong the Capitals lineup is offensively and he said playing strong defense will be a really important part of the game on Wednesday.
“We have to do the little things right, especially against Washington,” Jurcina said. “They have a really good team, a really good offensive team and if you let up once it’s going to be in your net, so you have to do everything right, the little things and work hard.”
But coach Gordon isn’t too worried about getting the puck past the Capitals defensemen. He credits the Islanders forwards with doing their job on the forecheck which drew quite a few penalties that led to five power play goals in the first two games of the season.
“In the Dallas game there were two instances where we rushed the defensemen into thinking he had more time than he had and then when we got on top of him he panicked and tried to throw it off the glass instead of moving his feet… I think that’s a good indicator of us being able to establish a forecheck for a length of time that third period and really make it hard for them to come out.”
Jurcina knows just how strong the Capitals defense is, and making the matchup more interesting is the fact the Capitals have not allowed any power play goals in their first three games of the season.
While it’s highly improbable that they will keep a perfect ranking throughout the entire season, the Islanders are poised to make a run at the Caps blemish free penalty kill. With the second best power play ranking in the league at 38.5 percent, the Islanders have scored five of their 10 goals on the power play this season.
“The last three years they (the Capitals) were battling to get a good percentage on the penalty kill so definitely I think they have all the pieces,” Jurcina said. “They were signing all the guys. They have a couple young guys on the backend and they have been working hard to get in the lineup. I think everything is working for them right now on the penalty kill so we just have to do what we did last time against Dallas and the Rangers and see what happens.”
The Islanders have gone 1-2-1 in the clubs' last four meetings, three of which have gone in to overtime. While Jurcina knows that the Islanders as a team will be playing a tough game on Wednesday, he is excited to play against his former teammates.
I think it’s going to be exciting. I was talking to a few guys from Washington so I am really looking forward to play against them. I was there for three-and-a-half years so it’s going to be a little different feeling, but I am definitely excited. - Milan Jurcina
“I think it’s going to be exciting. I was talking to a few guys from Washington so I am really looking forward to play against them,” Jurcina said. “I was there for three-and-a-half years so it’s going to be a little different feeling, but I am definitely excited.”
If the Islanders top lines can produce as much as they did in the first two games, the Long Island fans can look forward to a win Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. More from Josh Bailey on the solid start to the season:
Bailey has looked very good in the young season. He scored an even-strength goal on Monday night versus the Rangers, and made a beautiful backhanded pass to Blake Comeau who found the back of the net to tie the score.
“Our line played really well and meshed well together and had some good production so guys have to step up right now,” Bailey said. “We were happy to do that last night and maybe it will be someone else the next night, but as long as we have people stepping up we’ll be just fine.”
“It was a good game,” Bailey continued. “Everyone was really in to it. It was a close game too. Everyone was playing really hard. It was obviously nice to get the comeback win and the key was not giving them the extra point… Now we’ve played two really good games. It’s two good stepping stones and if we can keep moving in the right direction I think we can get some good results.”
The Islanders next home game is Saturday at 7 p.m., when they faceoff against the Western Conference Colorado Avalanche.