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Winning Wisdom

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
There is good news coming out of Long Island on the injury front. Brian Rolston (concussion) and Jay Pandolfo (broken foot) are close to returning to the Islanders lineup. Rolston has been cleared by team doctors and Pandolfo is day-to-day.

As both wingers prepare for their return, they’re veteran leadership will come in to play. With the Islanders on a three-game losing streak, falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings Monday night, there’s comfort knowing that the team will ultimately build off their short comings and learn what it takes to win.

However, winning is mental according to the Islanders veterans. Pandolfo and Rolston have both played in the National Hockey League for more than a combined 30 years and have seen teams battle through the grind of an 82-game season at their highest and lowest points.

Jay Pandolfo and Ryan Callahan prepare for a face off during the third period at Nassau Coliseum on November 15, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Pandolfo has first-hand knowledge of the winning mentality, raising the Stanley Cup high above his head with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and again in 2003.

“Every night, you feel like you’re going to have a chance to win instead of wondering if we’re going to have a good game and how we’re going to play,” Pandolfo said of those winning teams in New Jersey.

Rolston understands the opposite end of the spectrum. Though he’s played in 12 playoff series during his career, he’s only made it past the first round once. He’s also been on three teams that have ranked at the bottom of their respective division by seasons’ end. However, every year after that losing season, those teams made a playoff push.

When that tough stretch occurs, Rolston said it’s important to tackle it before it is too late.

“You can’t get down as a team. It’s very difficult. It’s easier said than done, but you have to stay positive and feel that you’re going to go out and win a hockey game,” Rolston said. “When you start losing over and over, you don’t feel like you can win and you start looking lethargic on the ice. And it builds. You have to stop it. If you don’t stop it, it snowballs.”

But changing the current situation can’t happen with the play of just one individual.

“The thing is individual success is going to come with team success,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “You can’t travel with the team on your back and try to do too much because if you do that, it’s going to end up costing you a goal and that goal can be the difference in winning or losing that game.”

Brian Rolston skates against the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum on November 25, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
After all, it’s a team game and it takes a full-team effort for a full 60 minutes to win a hockey game at the highest level. So when Capuano held a higher-paced practice for his 22-man squad for a full hour on Tuesday, it started the change. He mixed up the line combinations as well.

“It was only 60 minutes, but 60 minutes is (the length of) a game,” Capuano said. “They worked extremely hard. There was a lot of battling. That’s what you need throughout 60 minutes, throughout the course of the game.”

Understanding the team’s identity is going to be a big part of turning the Islanders season around.

“We have to grind teams down and we have to understand that’s who we are,” Capuano said. “We’re not winning 7-6 or 8-7. That’s not happening. We have to make sure we figure out a way to play within the team concept for 60 minutes and find a way to win those close games.”

Every team has their ups and downs.

“You’re not going to feel great every night, individually and as a team,” Pandolfo said. “But those nights that you don’t feel great, you have to find a way to play the right way and not make too many mistakes. You can still find ways to win when you’re not feeling great and that’s what we need to start doing here. We might feel a little tired some nights, but on those nights we just have to keep it simple, play the right way and play as a team.”

Fighting through adversity is just half the battle. Learning to be consistent is the other.

“Sometimes we get away from what makes us successful,” Pandolfo said. “We definitely go through stretches where we’re playing really well, but then we get away from it. We have to play consistent and always try to play the right way.”

He continued, “It’s a long season, 82 games. You’re going to go through stretches where you struggle, but you have to find a way to make yourself successful, playing as a team and stick with that. If you do that as a team and play the right way, you’ll eventually turn it around.”

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