Isles Continue to Surprise

by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two weeks ago, the Islanders looked like anything but a playoff team. Getting inconsistent goaltending, sloppy defense and not nearly enough scoring, the season looked all but finished. However, after a 4-3 overtime loss against the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 9, the Isles have gone on a six-game winning streak and currently find themselves in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.

“As a great mind once said, the harder you work, the luckier you get,” Islanders head coach Ted Nolan told the Associated Press after the team beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday. “And we’ve been working very hard the last couple of games.”

Going without defensemen Brendan Witt, Andy Sutton and Bruno Gervais, the Islanders have gotten amazing defensive efforts from Radek Martinek and Freddy Meyer, who have consistently been playing over 24 minutes a night over the past half dozen games. That’s not to say that the rest of the Islanders defense isn’t holding its weight either. Bryan Berard, Aaron Johnson and recent call up Drew Fata have been playing big minutes in all situations, while Marc-Andre Bergeron is slowly getting out of the offensive funk he’s been in since he All-Star break.

On the offensive front, the Islanders are finally starting to get consistent offensive production from all four lines. Mike Comrie has eight points in his last eight games, while the newly formed “Grind Line” of Ruslan Fedotenko, Josef Vasicek and Trent Hunter has been white hot, scoring a combined seven goals and adding 11 assists during the team’s winning streak. Miroslav Satan [three goals in his past four games] and Sean Bergenheim [six points in his last eight games] have stepped up their games as well and have helped provide the Islanders with the most balance they’ve had on offense all season.

“I feel our line’s playing better,” Fedotenko told the AP after the Isles defeated the Thrashers 4-1 on Feb. 16. “Everything’s working right now.”

With the offense starting to produce and the depleted defense managing to defy the odds, Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro has also been solid, bouncing back from a string of sub-par outings against the Ducks, Penguins and Canadiens. Already with 24 wins, DiPietro has an opportunity this season to be the first Islanders goaltender in team history to win 30 games in three consecutive years. If the team’s defense manages to keep the pieces together, DiPietro and his teammates may shock the NHL matchmakers that predicted they’d miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs. That’s what’s on our minds,” DiPietro told the AP on Wednesday. “We dug ourselves a hole and now we have to dig ourselves out.”