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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Flyers

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Saturday night’s matchup at Nassau Coliseum will be somewhat of a benchmark game for the New York Islanders. While the Philadelphia Flyers have won all four games they’ve played against the Islanders this season, in the most recent contest, Feb. 24, the Isles earned a point for taking the game to the extra session.

“The Flyers have a very deep team so they can come at you with many different combinations, different players and lines,” Islanders forward John Tavares said. “I think it's just their overall experience. They go out there, and whether good things or bad things happen to them, they just seem to keep on going and find ways to win. They get the job done.”

Tavares continued, “They’re a tough team to play against. Of course they’re physical; they try and beat up on you a little bit and try to use that to their advantage. All of those little things contribute to their success.”

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders loses control of the puck as he's being chased by Radek Dvorak #20 of the Atlanta Thrashers on March 24, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Isles have historically had a rough go of it against the Flyers, but this season, the team’s first three losses happened during the team’s 20-of-21 winless streak. With the team’s new feel and new outlook, the Flyers will be up for a dangerous game.

Earlier this season, there was a sense of shock and awe as the Islanders defeated other top tiered teams with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings. Just like in those contests, the Islanders will be hoping to earn two points with a win in regulation.

“When you’ve got five guys on the ice that can move it around, it’s a dangerous team,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “They’ve got some veteran guys. We’ve had a young team here for a little bit. We’re at a point now where we’re getting some confidence. I’ve tried to tell the guys since I got here – we don’t fear anybody, but we have to respect our opponent, go out and play hard.”

Playing hard is exactly what the Islanders have done these last few months, the Islanders have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the East, but they had an uncharacteristic showing, followed by a loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night.

“Our whole game last night has a little trouble,” Capuano said. “It was like the Rangers game, 6-3, we’re just not going to watch any video. We’re just going to move forward. We didn’t have anything under us. Systematically, we didn’t do anything we normally do. But I give them credit. We haven’t had too many of those games. We just have to bounce back.”

Thus, the Islanders will be looking to right their ship.

“The Flyers have played us tough,” Tavares said. “It just seems that even when we play pretty well against them, the bounces haven’t gone our way. Hopefully we can change that tomorrow. We’re going to have a much better effort than we did yesterday. It’s a great division opponent, a great rivalry and they’ve got a great hockey team. So I’m sure we’ll be ready to play.”

The biggest challenge will fall to the Islanders blue-liners. Losing a player who sees the most time on ice and goes up against opponent’s top offensive lines would be hard for any team, but will only make the test all that much more important when faced with the top team in the Eastern Conference.

“They’re one of the highest scoring teams in our conference,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said about the Flyers. “They’ve got a lot of high-end power. I thought we did a really good job the last time we played them. We lost in overtime, but I thought we really kept them to the outside.”

Hamonic continued, “With a team like that, they’re going to get their opportunities, and their chances just because of their skill and power that they have, but you just have to limit those chances and where they’re getting the opportunities from.”

Jack Hillen #38 of the New York Islanders skates with the puck against the Florida Panthers on March 19, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Islanders defeated the Panthers 4-3 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Defenseman Ty Wishart will be the player who gets the call to join the Islanders defensive core. He’ll undoubtedly prove he’s able to step up to the challenge as he’s already played 13 games for the Isles this season, posting 1 goal and 3 assists for four points.

With the addition of Wishart, interim head coach Jack Capuano has yet to decide on defensive pairings, but it’s guaranteed they’ll look a little different.

Travis Hamonic will be without MacDonald, something he’s only had to deal with once before. So he’ll require a new partner. Hamonic is the physical player, the one who looks to make the initial break out pass from the defensive zone, makes big checks and plays with grit. Thus, Jack Hillen or Radek Martinek could be the right fit.

Both players have a huge amount of potential, just with different backgrounds. Hillen is the player with stealthy moves and swift feet, helping him transition and join the offensive rush with ease. And Martinek is a veteran stay-at-home defenseman with just the right amount of finesse and shot blocking abilities.

“I’ve been jumping up in the play and creating some stuff, and we’ve been getting some goals out of it,” Hillen said. “I think it helps the forwards create some offense. It’s tougher on their team. Their forwards have to back check and d-men jumping up in the play. I think that’s a part of my game that’s always been there, but now I’m starting to utilize it a little bit more.”

However, the whole responsibility will not fall to the Islanders back end. The offense will need to step up all aspects of their game, move their feet, put shots on net and add a physical dimension if they want to play at the same level the Flyers will undoubtedly bring.

“It’s not just the D-corps,” Hamonic said. “I think we need some help from the forwards as well. They’ve been doing a great job of it the last couple of games. When they’re doing that, it makes our job (as defensemen) a heck of a lot easier. Credit the forwards big time lately. In the last couple of games they’ve played really well, and deserve a lot of credit.”
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