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Putting the power in power play

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Among the 30 NHL clubs, last year’s Islanders power play improved drastically from years past, finishing 14th overall in goals scored and 17th overall in overall percentage. However, finishing in the middle of the pack isn’t acceptable for this year’s Islanders squad.

“Our power play has to be good if we want to play in May and June this year,” said Islanders center Frans Nielsen. “The power play wins you games. It’s important. It has to be better than last year.”

Over the past three seasons, the Islanders have had the luxury of tapping the knowledge of future Hall of Famer Doug Weight. Last season, the Islanders coaching staff asked the injured Weight to use his expertise of the game and help the young group. When the former team captain announced his retirement May 26, the franchise rewarded the NHL veteran by naming him Sr. Advisor to the General Manager and Assistant Coach.

Islanders center Frans Nielsen takes a shot on Mikko Koskinen during Islanders Training Camp at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011.
As a result, Weight worked with the Islanders coaching staff this off season to analyze the power play and devise a plan of attack. The plan is to boost the team’s productivity and ultimately helping the club secure a spot in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“That’s the one area that we want to have two units, two different looks,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We want to create more chances and the way that you do that, is you shoot the puck more… Hopefully we can improve on that area this year.”

One large boost will come with the return of defenseman Mark Streit. He led the Islanders in power play goals, assists and points during the 2008-09 season and the same amongst defensemen in the 2009-10 season.

“(Mark has) tremendous hockey sense,” Capuano said. “He gets pucks to the net, that’s the main thing. He finds holes, like he did the other night (against the Devils) to create offense on a back door play, but he’s also smart enough to recognize how a play develops and what he needs to do.”

Streit’s vision makes him a good quarterback on the point. He chipped in with a goal and an assist, helping the Islanders go 3-for-6 on Tuesday against the Devils.

“A lot of games are tight 5-on-5 and a lot of times specialty teams make the difference,” Streit said. “If you have a strong power play, it helps a lot on the PK as well, but I think a good power play gives you a lot of goals, which is an advantage.”

He added, “If you get a lot of chances, you get a lot of momentum out of that and it gets your team going. You could see that last weekend, we scored three (goals) on the power play and that gave us the boost for the whole game... It makes a big difference throughout the whole season if you can get those goals, it helps decide games.”

Capuano and the Islanders coaching staff led the group of players who did not travel to Calgary through its first organized power play session.

“We concentrated on entries into the zone,” Nielsen said. “We’ve talked a lot about how we can’t stop working hard because we have one extra guy out there. You’ve got to keep competing hard and keep moving your feet.”

Islanders defenseman Mark Streit carries the puck behind the back of the net during Islanders Training Camp at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011.
He added, “We know the importance of traffic and making sure we take shots. There are no bad shots out there as long as we have traffic.”

Various units were used throughout the practice that combined different combinations, but Nielsen was a fixed piece of Streit’s unit. Adding Nielsen to the power play, after making him a staple to the penalty kill last season, is a decision Capuano has thought a lot about.

“(Frans) has tremendous hockey sense, vision, his shot’s accurate,” Capuano said. “I'm expecting him to have a tremendous year offensively… He takes so much pride in the defensive side of the puck and going up against other guys top lines, but at the same time, there’s no question in my mind that he can play on the first unit power play for us.”

Brian Rolston, an offseason transaction expected to add veteran presence and a killer slap shot to the power play, watched Tuesday’s practice from the bench as he recovers from injury.

“With the amount of power plays that (Rolston has) played on with a lot of different teams, there’s no surprise with what he does and what he does best,” Capuano said. “So I’m not overly concerned (with his absence).”

The power play may be a work in progress, but it’s one that the team is fully confident will improve.
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