Isles Need to Refocus Down the Stretch
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, March 11, 2007

After two tough one-goal loses to the Rangers, the New York Islanders find themselves barely holding on to a playoff spot, only one point ahead of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes and only three points ahead of both the Rangers and Maple Leafs for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

With less than a quarter of the season left to go, Islanders head coach Ted Nolan knows it’s going to be a dogfight until the end and understands that every single game remaining is an important one..

“I've said it before, but our biggest opponent is ourselves,” said Nolan on the team’s official website. “We have to be ready to play no matter who we play. We're coming down to the last 15 games of the year. You look at the standings and you can see how important each point is. We're only three points up on eighth place and four points behind seventh. The teams are tight from the fourth spot to the 14th spot. Every point is important, so if you can't get up for that, than you can't get up for too much else.”

Two losses in a row during a pivotal point in the season may be bad news for most teams, but the Islanders may in fact be the strongest team in the cluster of teams vying for a playoff spot.

Finally getting captain Alexei Yashin back after over a month on injured reserve, the Islanders have an opportunity to dramatically improve their offensive game and now have enough depth on their forward lines to revert back to the playing style that was so successful for them earlier in the season, when all four lines were getting significant amounts of ice time.

The return of Yashin may also be the thing that gets the Islanders power play going more consistently. Going 0 for 7 against the Rangers on Thursday, the Isles powerplay continues to be extremely inconsistent, despite occasional bursts of dominance. Yashin’s return, combined with the new additions of Marc-Andre Bergeron [eight points in eight games as an Islander] and Ryan Smyth may in fact be just what the doctor ordered for an Islanders powerplay that is in desperate need of a defibrillator and may in fact be the missing link in an Islander team that many believe has enough talent to make a serious playoff run.

However, the reason why the Islanders power play problems haven’t been as well documented this season as they should be is because of their goaltender Rick DiPietro, who despite occasional bouts with inconsistency himself has been largely responsible for several key victories this season. Even when the Islanders have failed to put the puck in the net DiPietro has done everything it takes to keep his team alive.

“We certainly appreciate Ricky's play,” said Nolan on the team’s official website, after his starting net minded made 56 saves against the Rangers last week, a game where the Islanders only mustered one goal on 30 shots. “He's been like this all season long. He's one of the reasons we are where we are.”

The only question is how long DiPietro can continue to keep his team in the hunt while they fail to capitalize with the man advantage.