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Small deadline moves reveal confidence of Islanders

by Brian Compton

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Judging by the smiles and the lack of nerves at Islanders Iceworks on Monday, one never would have known it was a few hours away from the NHL Trade Deadline.

It felt like a routine practice for the New York Islanders, who skated for about an hour before heading to the airport to board a flight to Dallas, where they will begin a four-game road trip Tuesday.

One could understand why the Islanders seemed so relaxed. They entered Monday with 41 wins and were atop the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the New York Rangers.

"We're really excited about the group we have in here," defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "... If (general manager) Garth [Snow] decides to do something, it's not up to us.

"We're certainly a very tight-knit group. A big group of us have been together for a long time now. We've been through some of the down years and it's certainly been a lot of fun winning together and it's been a good atmosphere around this room (this season).

"I understand there's decisions to be made, [but] it doesn't necessarily come into our minds. Obviously it's done for us, but we hope we can do something really special with this group."

Backup goaltender Chad Johnson participated fully in practice and casually left the rink, perhaps completely unaware he was on the verge of being traded to the Buffalo Sabres, along with a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, for goalie Michal Neuvirth.

Johnson, who won 17 games for the Boston Bruins last season, had difficulty finding a rhythm in New York (8-8-1, 3.08 goals-against average, .889 save percentage) but will certainly have a chance to play more in Buffalo.

Neuvirth's arrival gives New York a quality backup to Jaroslav Halak, who has set an Islanders record for wins in a season (33). Neuvirth had a 2.28 GAA and .938 save percentage in February.

"I always knew I could play at this level and I can be consistent," Neuvirth said. "The guys have been playing in front of me well lately and we got a few wins in the last couple of weeks. I really liked it here in Buffalo, I'm going to miss the teammates, but this is a business.

"I think [Halak] and I are going to be a good tandem. Hopefully we're going to go deep in the playoffs. They are a great team with great, skilled players."

Snow made one other addition to his NHL roster Monday, acquiring right wing Tyler Kennedy from the San Jose Sharks for what will be a seventh-round pick in this year's draft unless the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup Final and Kennedy plays in at least half of those games. If that's the case, the Islanders will trade the later pick of either their third-round pick in 2016 or the Vancouver Canucks' third-round pick (previously acquired) in 2016.

Kennedy, 28, brings 76 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. He helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win a championship in 2009 and gives New York quality depth while forwards Kyle Okposo, Casey Cizikas and Mikhail Grabovski work their way back from injury.

Before the deadline passed, Snow was able to add two valuable pieces to the puzzle without being forced to subtract anything substantial from what is a very close dressing room.

"I love the group that we have here," coach Jack Capuano said while Snow was still working the phones. "We had a lot of fun out there today. It was a good pace, and that's what we were looking for after a good day off. Expectations were high today for our team to make sure we went out and did the right things, and we did that."

The Islanders will have to continue to do that if they expect to win a division that got stronger over the past few days, with the Rangers landing Keith Yandle from the Arizona Coyotes and the Washington Capitals acquiring Curtis Glencross from the Calgary Flames.

And don't forget the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by world-class centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"[The Rangers] made a splash," Capuano said. "You can't worry about those things. Our goal from Day One was to play the best hockey that we can, to have the believability and trust and the accountability in that room to make it to the dance. There's one goal in mind, and that's to win a Stanley Cup. No matter what anybody does, we just have to worry about ourselves. We believe in this group."

The few tweaks by Snow proved that Monday.

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