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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo was on his own this afternoon -- the more even-keeled and sometimes moderator Mike Francesa in on vacation -- but the puppy was on his best behavior during a 20-minute interview this afternoon with Mike Milbury.

The only time "Dog" sounded like he needed to scratch was when he pressed Milbury with his theory that Islanders star center Alexei Yashin must take his game to another level. Milbury disagreed with him on some points -- for instance, Yashin had a strong 2001 series against Toronto, contrary to Chris' opinion -- but he acknowledged Yashin's time has most definitely come.

"It's a new cast of characters for him," Milbury said on WFAN. "I didn't completely subscribe to the theory that we needed to place a star alongside Alexei, but the fact is (Miroslav) Satan is a terrific player. Alexei is definitely our go-to guy. He's got to kick it up a notch.

"Alexei said to me, 'I just want to know that you and the coaches have confidence in me.' I told him that we did, but that we're also going to stay on him all year if things pop up that concern us. He's comfortable with that." Finally, to Russo, the GM said, "I'll agree with you on this: he has to have a big year, or we're in trouble."

Among other subjects, Milbury said he was very pro-shootout because the NHL owes a lot to the fans and the fans want a winner and a loser. He added that he was even in favor of making the nets larger. Milbury admitted to mixed feelings about Wayne Gretzky's move behind the bench because, "It's a very bloody business, and I like my icons to be forever on a pedestal." However, Milbury added that if any legend could pull it off it would be Gretzky because he's been doing it his whole life.

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