When 7 p.m. rolls around on Friday night, the Islanders will play their last home game of the 2010-11 season. It’s a highly anticipated game, as the Islanders will take on Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since the heated matchup at the Coliseum on February 11.
“The first thing I reflect upon is how well we played after that game,” Islanders faceoff specialist Zenon Konopka said. “That’s the reality of the matter. We played our best hockey after that game. Is it a coincidence that we just started playing well and came together after that game? I don’t think so. But some people might. It’s a sport and it’s an intense sport. It may be the best sport in the world.”
Emotions on the ice and in the stands will be high. The last time these two teams met the Islanders came away with a 9-3 win over their division rivals.
|Zenon Konopka #28 of the New York Islanders pushes off of Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins on March 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“It would be nice if we could put up another nine,” Islanders forward Matt Moulson
said. “It just seemed like shots were going in. Sometimes you have nights like that. Before all the melee broke out, we were playing some pretty good hockey and executing our systems. That’s going to be important against this team. They’ve been playing well. We have to make sure we keep it simple and execute what we’ve been working on.”
That was exactly eight weeks ago to the day. And in that contest, the teams were assessed a combined 346 penalty minutes. Since then, the Islanders haven’t had a game that’s been nearly as scrappy. They made their feelings known and let the emotions cool.
“I think it’s not going to be the way it was last time,” Islanders sophomore center John Tavares
said. “I think both teams are just going to want to play. I think it will be a great atmosphere and both teams are going to be really intense, but I think you’ll see a really good hockey game.”
All along, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said that he lets the players play the game. He talks with them about their system, the right kinds of plays and how to counteract some of the opposition’s strongest assets, but he doesn’t tell them how to play with their emotions. He lets the players decide that part of the game.
So Friday night should be no different.
“We’re going out to play a hockey game,” Capuano said. “I’m not going to look at it as any different game than we’ve played. The players decided the game. The coaches are going to give the game plan and the players play the game. We just want to make sure we’re doing the right things. We’ve got two games left, six periods of hockey together, and we just want to play well in those six periods.”
Therefore, don’t be surprised if the game remains physical, but the fisticuffs are few and far between. The Islanders have a different sense about them now. They’ve rallied behind one another and grown closer over these last two months.
“It really brought us together,” Tavares said. “Obviously it’s not something you like to see a whole lot, and you don’t really want to see that as part of the game, where there’s a fight every other second, or there’s a dirty play out there, but for a team like us, that can sometimes bring a team together and make a stand for ourselves. I don’t think it was just the fighting. I think it was the way we played that game and really dominated what was actually played in that game.”