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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Senators

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
In the last month, the Islanders have shown the teams in the National Hockey League that two tough months does not mean they are going to throw in the towel and give up on the rest of the 2010-2011 season. In that span, they’ve defeated some of the top teams in the league, including the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, while they most recently lost in the shootout to the Vancouver Canucks.

“I think over the last month or so that we’ve been trying to stick to our game plan, guys have shown some belief in one another and they’re playing hard,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “We always respect our opponent, but right now we’re trying to worry about how we have to play.”

Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders are set to take on the Ottawa Senators, who are just one spot and five points above the Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings. Although they’re currently on a six-game winless streak, the Senators are not a team to take lightly.

Keith Ballard #4 of the Vancouver Canucks stick checks John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders on January 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Canucks defeat the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“They had 30-plus shots last night against Boston,” Capuano said. “They played Tampa Bay real tough and they’re working extremely hard. When you’re a desperate hockey team, you’re a dangerous team and they’re playing physical. They’re playing real well in all three zones so it will be a good test for us. We’re going to have to be on top of our game. They’ll come out, they’ll come out hard. Our team should expect that.”

Thursday night will be the second matchup of the season for the Islanders and Senators. In the first game this season, held in Ottawa, the Senators defeated the Isles 4-1 after Jason Spezza had a four point night, scoring one goal and three assists. As a result, Capuano pointed to the Senators veteran leadership as one dangerous characteristic.

“They have some top guys,” Capuano said. “(Erik) Karlsson is a transitional guy from the blueline that likes to join the play. With (Mike) Fisher and (Daniel) Alfredsson up front, they’ve got some leadership on that team for sure.”

The Islanders may have one of the youngest teams in the league, but they’ve proven that they can contend with top teams and against teams with veteran status.

“The first period the Canucks kind of took it to us a bit, but the second, third and overtime, I thought we contained them pretty well,” Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald said about Tuesday night’s matchup. “They didn’t get too many chances even though they have a really talented offensive team over there.”

MacDonald continued, “I think we should be pretty proud of our effort (Tuesday) night. Although we didn’t get the two points, which is obviously the goal, we played the best team in the league and we played them really hard. That’s something to keep our heads up about.”

A lot of the Islanders success had to do with shutting down the firepower of the Canucks offensive lines, and not allowing the team with the best power play in the league to score with the man advantage.

“Special teams I think is key,” Capuano said. “Right now it’s attention to detail. We’re at the point right now where they understand what the coaching staff wants them to do and the positions and guidelines that we’ve given them. The biggest thing right now is their execution.”

Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders tries to gain control of the puck in a game against the the Vancouver Canucks on January 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
And implementing those guidelines have really helped step up the Islanders power play. In their last six games, the Islanders have drawn 18 penalties and have scored eight power play goals, meaning they have scored 44.4 percent of the time they’ve had a man advantage.

“Aside from the Edmonton game, our power play has been doing really well, which is nice because we had that big drought in the middle of the year,” MacDonald said. “I think everyone is on the same page and clicking. There are times here where special teams are going well and there are times when they’re going bad, so I think we had our dry spell there and now we’re really on the same page and clicking. It’s nice to see.”

The Islanders penalty kill has also been on a tear. While they’ve taken a combined 19 penalties in their last seven games, they’ve only allowed one power play goal. That means the Islanders have a 94.7 percent success rate on the penalty kill in that seven-game span.

“For our penalty kill, we do quite a bit of video and our coaches do extensive research on it, so there are a lot of little adjustments that we’re making and have proven to be very good,” MacDonald said. “But your best penalty killer is your goalie and ours have been fantastic on the kill so far.

Even though the Islanders special teams have been performing so well, they must still be prepared for the Senators. Their road power play is tied for eighth in the league standings as they score 20.6 percent of the time they have a man advantage. Their penalty kill can be just as lethal as their road penalty kill is tied for ninth with 83.1 percent.

“If you go through the Senators lineup, they have the talent there to definitely have a winning team,” MacDonald said. “Teams go through little spells where they’re struggling and this seems like it’s one of those for them. By no means would we consider taking that game lightly at all.”

Hopefully the Islanders will continue on their path to success by defeating the Senators and decreasing the point differential from within five points in the Eastern Conference league standings to just three.
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