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Capuano confident Islanders defensemen can improve

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- There is no doubt Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic make up the New York Islanders' top defensive pairing. They play the most minutes each night and consistently go up against the opposition's top forwards.

But they can't do it alone. That's why the Islanders, who were sloppy in a 5-2 loss on home ice to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, need more from their other four defensemen -- on both ends of the ice -- if they're going to be a force in the Metropolitan Division.

"Those guys are going to play top minutes, none different than [Ryan] McDonagh and [Dan] Girardi," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of MacDonald and Hamonic, who will receive top minutes again Tuesday night against the New York Rangers at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

"We just collectively back there have to play better. Guys are giving us what they have, [but] we're making mistakes that they see, they know and I've got the confidence in them that it's going to get better. But for us to be successful, we have to have better decisions with the puck on our stick. Our gaps have got to be better, our sticks have got to be better, we've got to defend harder. We've gone through this. I have the confidence they're going to rebound."

The biggest issue facing the Islanders' defense is the injury to Lubomir Visnovsky, who suffered a concussion in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 19. He hasn't played since and there is no timetable for his return. Visnovsky's injury only increases the workload for MacDonald and Hamonic, which is why Capuano needs more from the likes of Thomas Hickey and Matt Donovan.

"If we're going to be the team we want to be, I think everyone's got to step up," said Hickey, who averages nearly 18 minutes per game. "Trav and A-Mac do a great job handling the top guys. As a group, the rest of us need to step up a bit and limit those 5-on-5 goals."

Offensively, the Islanders' defensemen have provided little thus far this season. Donovan and Visnovsky have one goal apiece, both via the power play. The group has yet to score a goal at even strength, something they hope changes Tuesday night, against the Rangers.

"We're trying to get up ice and we're trying to make things happen," Hickey said. "We haven't had too much luck. But it's a long season. I think in stretches, those things come. But it definitely would be nice if we did step up there and help our forwards out getting the puck in the net.

"This is the perfect opponent for us, really, with the way we've played hockey in stretches for the whole season. The parts that have been missing, those are easy things to correct when your body's into it and your mind's into it. Playing against the Rangers is going to get us in that mindset."

Here are the projected lineups for Tuesday night:


Brad RichardsDerek StepanChris Kreider

Carl HagelinDerick BrassardBenoit Pouliot

J.T. MillerBrian BoyleTaylor Pyatt

Derek DorsettDominic MooreMats Zuccarello

Dan GirardiRyan McDonagh

Anton StralmanMarc Staal

John MooreMichael Del Zotto

Cam Talbot

Henrik Lundqvist

Scratched: Brandon Mashinter, Justin Falk

Injured: Ryan Callahan (broken thumb), Rick Nash (concussion)


Thomas VanekJohn TavaresKyle Okposo

Pierre-Marc BouchardFrans NielsenJosh Bailey

Michael GrabnerPeter ReginCal Clutterbuck

Brock NelsonCasey CizikasMatt Martin

Andrew MacDonaldTravis Hamonic

Matt DonovanRadek Martinek

Thomas HickeyMatt Carkner

Evgeni Nabokov

Kevin Poulin

Scratches: Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton

Injured: Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion), Brian Strait (upper body)


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