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Power-ful Play

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The Islanders special teams have been firing on all cylinders as of late. Head Coach Jack Capuano has consistently preached that having strong special teams leads to team success.

Tuesday night, the Islanders matched their longest win streak of the season with a victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Propelled by power-play goals from Matt Moulson and Frans Nielsen, the team remained disciplined and killed off Carolina’s only opportunity with the man advantage.

Through the first 37 games of their season, the Islanders have drawn the least amount of power plays in the NHL (121), but they’ve also made the most of their opportunities. Currently, they rank tied for fourth in the league with a 19.8 percent success rate, scoring on 24 of their chances.

Matt Moulson skates for position during an NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 3, 2012 at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
“Dougie (Weight, Islanders Assistant Coach) has worked with us a lot and just helpfully reminded us that we need to work harder at times, make sure we’re battling and getting the puck and supporting each other,” said Moulson, who leads the Isles with six power-play goals.

He added, “Recently, we’ve supported each other a lot better and gotten to a lot more pucks when we chip them in or dump them in. Guys are working hard and playing smart positionally.”

Dating back to Dec. 22, the Islanders have scored on 7-of-14 power plays (50 percent). In that six-game span, Moulson, Nielsen and PA Parenteau have each scored two power-play goals while John Tavares has added one. All but one of Parenteau’s goals were gritty, scored low in the slot or from within two feet of the crease.

Their recent success includes going 2-for-3 on New Year’s Eve and a perfect 2-for-2 on Tuesday against Carolina. The Islanders head coach said the team’s success with the man advantage is simple.

“On the power play, it’s been pretty basic,” Capuano said. “We’ve been getting in the zone and we’ve been doing nothing but trying to find that 2-on-1, getting shots to the net and converting. When you shoot, good things happen and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Isles have also been extremely disciplined all season, taking the third-fewest penalties in the league (119) behind San Jose (115) and Columbus (118). In their last eight games (since Dec. 17), they have been short-handed 15 times but have allowed only one power-play goal against for a 93.3 percent success rate.

Though the Isles recent success places them amongst league leaders, it hasn’t been that way all season. Going 14-for-15 on the penalty kill since Dec. 17 has elevated the Islanders’ season success 1.6 percentage points to 82.4 percent, placing them 16th in the league.

“I think the difference is always attention to detail,” Capuano said. “With our penalty kill, we talk about the first eight seconds. Any time the opposing team enters the zone, any time we can apply pressure in those first few seconds, we can get the puck 200 feet; we are doing a better job of that. We’re keeping our shifts short and we’ve won some key faceoffs.”

Sacrificing their bodies and blocking shots is an important part of that success, but defenseman Travis Hamonic sees a deeper importance.

Ales Hemsky tries to move the puck around Matt Martin and Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on December 31, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“A lot of times, the penalty kill is solely about outworking the other team’s power play,” Hamonic said. “We have systems in place as to how we want to play it and we know what we have to do. We started the year off really hot on the penalty kill and then we dipped a little and got off track, but lately it’s been a lot better. In this league, you can win games or lose games with special teams and we’ve been doing really well lately.”

It’s more than Capuano’s skaters that make the difference. Goaltenders are the last line of defense and often referred to as a team’s best penalty killer. It’s no different for the Islanders. Evgeni Nabokov has started a team-leading six-straight games and has posted a 2.49 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 15 games this season.

“He’s playing really well right now,” Hamonic said. “That’s something that we need. He plays the puck really well and sometimes that simplifies things for us on defense.”

Capuano added, “When you have a goalie that makes key saves at some key times during a game, it definitely gives your bench a lift. We know that he’s done that. We’ve had a couple breakdowns at some moments during the game where it’s been a one-goal game or a tie game and he’s made big saves. I definitely think he’s a big part in our confidence.”

If the Islanders continue to remain disciplined, draw penalties and capitalize on their opportunities, they’ll have the opportunity to extend their winning streak to four games on Friday night at the Honda Center. A victory against the Anaheim Ducks would propel the Isles onto their longest win streak of the season.

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