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Isles Defense Powering the Offense

The Islanders defensemen have five goals in two games and are being asked to play a key role in the offense

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

When the New York Islanders get offense out of their defense, good things tend to happen. 

Over the past two games - a 3-2 win over Arizona and a 6-3 win over Minnesota - Islanders defensemen have scored five goals. Last season, the team went 18-8-3 when getting a goal from a defenseman. 

The message Jack Capuano is sending to his D corps: join the rush, get pucks on net and contribute to the offense. He even has a benchmark for the blue line - score at least 160 points. 

"We've stressed this since day one," Capuano said after Friday's 3-2 win over Arizona, which saw the defensemen play a key role in all three goals. "We have a formula that we think is a number our defensemen have to hit. If you look at points by defensemen in the last two years and look at the standings, it's pretty identical as to which teams make the playoffs."

Video: ARI@NYI: Boychuk rips SHG past Domingue for the lead

The Islanders defensemen finished with 149 points last season, seventh in the Eastern Conference. Seven of the eight Eastern teams that made the playoffs last season got at least 140 points from their blue line. Two years ago, the Islanders got 170 points from their back end. 

There's a stronger correlation between goals and playoffs specifically. The Islanders got 35 goals from their defense last season and seven of the eight teams that qualified in the East scored at least 30 goals from their blue line, while no playoff team finished in the bottom five in this category.

So it's encouraging to see the Islanders defensemen bulging the twine early this season. 

"We got some big goals from all parts of our lineup," John Tavares said on Sunday. "That goes a long way."

Video: MIN@NYI: Hickey goes top shelf to beat Kuemper

Five of the Islanders' six regular defensemen have goals this season, with Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey and Dennis Seidenberg getting their first in the last two games, while Johnny Boychuk scored in both contests. The Islanders will still rely primarily on Nick Leddy - who led the Islanders defensemen with 40 points last season - and Boychuk - who scored nine goals in each of the past two seasons - for the majority of the offense, but the others will need to contribute as well. 

"I see our guys - and this year with some new guys like Dennis - are buying in," Capuano said on Friday. "Guys that are real defensive-minded that like to play against top guys like Travis are buying in, they are getting up into the play more which is great to see."

Seidenberg's goal was the result of the defenseman joining the rush on Friday night, as was Leddy's goal on opening night and Hickey's goal against the Wild. They're creating odd-man rushes and giving the Islanders a four and sometimes five-man attack. 

"It's been a mindset of us trying to join the rush every time we can and for whatever reason it happened more often tonight," Seidenberg said on Friday. "Again, we have to keep joining the rush and creating odd-man rushes."

Video: ARI@NYI: Seidenberg beats Domingue over the blocker

Capuano, who preaches defensive responsibility, said his defensemen are picking the right times to join the rush.

"We are doing it at the right time though, that's the key for me," Capuano said on Sunday. "Especially the Hickey goal, when to jump, when not to jump."

The Islanders are giving their defensemen the green light this season, as long as the play is there. But Capuano is emphasizing more shots as well this season. They don't have to all be Boychukesque bombs, but they do have to find their way on goal. 

Video: MIN@NYI: de Haan blasts the puck past Kuemper

Six games in, the Islanders' defense is averaging just under nine shots per game as a unit. Boychuk leads the pack with 15 shots, while de Haan is second with 13. Capuano wants them to shoot often because while he's not expecting them to score at this pace all season, shots on goal lead to rebounds and at the very least, offensive zone time. 

"Shooting the puck is a big thing," the coach said. "[The Wild] hemmed us in in the second period for five or six minutes because every time they got the puck on the back end, they shot the puck and we couldn't retrieve it. It's a perfect example of what you have to do."

Capuano has spoke openly about his desire for 160 points, even saying he thinks he can get 200 out of his defense. That would be quite a feat - only the Flyers' 221 points cleared that bar in the East last season - but the coach clearly sees an offensive contribution as a key to the team's success. 

"What gets emphasized gets done," Capuano said. "There are guys who are maybe a little out of their comfort zone playing the way we want to play, but it's paid dividends for us.

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