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Penalty Killing Power Players

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Four games into the 2011-12 season, the Islanders have taken more than their share of penalties – only seven teams in the league have taken more. The team has killed 18 of their opposition's 19 power plays helping the Isles to open the season matching their best home record in 27 years (3-1-0).

“Just giving up one (short-handed goal), that one being on a 5-on-3, we’ve done pretty well,” said center Marty Reasoner. “Our penalty kill is still evolving, but I think we’re starting to get comfortable with the system, what we’re trying to do out there and with the guys we’re playing with.”

Marty Reasoner and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov defend the net against Erik Christensen at Nassau Coliseum on October 15, 2011. The Islanders defeated the Rangers 4-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Rule changes are continuously implemented by the NHL and could be the cause for so many calls. Though, Reasoner called the 2004-05 work stoppage the dividing point.

“(Rule changes have) opened the game up a lot,” Reasoner said. “You see a lot of the smaller, quicker guys having a lot of success just because you can’t hook, hold, hang on to guys or pin guys against the boards like you used to. It’s a lot harder to contain those quick guys.”

As the speed of the game increases, the style of play and systems adapt. Playing defensive-minded doesn’t seem to change too much. Reasoner has partnered with Jay Pandolfo, a fellow 15-year NHL veteran and a staple on the Islanders penalty kill this season.

Last season’s short-handed duo of Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen remains a constant threat on the offensive side of the Islanders top two PK units while Mark Eaton, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic and Steve Staios have carried the bulk of short-handed time amongst defenders.

The Islanders are currently ranked second in the league with a 94.7 percent success rate, just behind Florida who has killed 9-of-9. Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano is understandably pleased.

“We’ve cleared some pucks, we’ve won some key faceoffs, we’ve got the puck 200 feet (and) we haven’t turned pucks over,” Capuano said.

While the Islanders PK units have done a great job limiting chances, Capuano said that he still saw some players make mistakes that the team cannot afford. He’s credited goaltenders Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov for their work to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

The players agreed.

“There are going to be times that we have breakdowns and that’s where goaltending comes in,” Pandolfo said. “The goalies have been great so far. That’s usually the biggest part of the penalty kill, is how well your goaltender has been.”

Jay Pandolfo and Jason Garrison battle for the puck on October 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Montoya, who has played in three of the Islanders first four games this season, said his success wouldn’t be possible without the work that the team’s penalty killers have done in front of him.

“Being able to see the puck has been huge,” Montoya said. “The penalty killers have been giving me that option. There’s always going to be a guy open, but our players are making the easiest option available. And then, if I do have to make a save, there has never been a second rebound in front because our penalty killers have been clearing out.”

Only four games into the season, the Islanders don’t want to get too high on their success just yet.

Reasoner said, “We’re excited about the way things have gone, but there’s still a long way to go.”

In the last four seasons, more than 70 percent of the Islanders regular season games have been decided by fewer than three goals. Giving up a power-play goal could seriously alter their game plan.

Reasoner added, “In the past, there was more offense generated 5-on-5, so you could overcome giving up some goals shorthanded. Nowadays a lot of these games are 3-1, 3-2, real close games. So if you have a bad penalty kill or power play, it can really affect you.”

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