by Bloomberg 1130's Chris King
The Islanders completed the first twelve games of the 2005-06 season with a record of 6-6, good for fourth place in the Atlantic Division, but just three points out of first place with a game in hand on the division-leading Rangers. No team is ready to run away with the division title just yet, and the Blueshirts are the surprise team at the top. The Flyers have taken longer to hit their stride than most predicted, but having an entire week off in the first month of the season makes it difficult to get in any kind of early groove. The Devils have struggled early and Martin Brodeur is certainly seeing a lot more rubber than ever before without Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer in front of him. The Penguins have The Kid and all the big names but just two wins to show for it so far. The Islanders certainly need to improve their discipline and defensive zone play, but there have been many bright spots in the early going as well. Here are just a few:
Big Guns Deliver
Throughout training camp, Alexei Yashin and Miroslav Satan never really found the chemistry that everyone hoped would be there from the start. But just a few games into the regular season, the dynamic duo has really started to play well together. Yashin leads the team in points, Satan is the leader in goals, and together they have accounted for almost half of the Isles' total goals. Going into Thursday's game against Pittsburgh, Alexei had nine points in his last five games, Miro had six goals in his last seven contests, and each player was thriving no matter who the third member of their line was. Of the eight goals scored by Satan, Yashin had assists on six of them. If the Islanders can find a way to stay out of the penalty box more often, it will just give these guys more even strength icetime to do their thing together.
From A To Z
Alexei Zhitnik, in the words of his head coach Steve Stirling, has been a "horse" on the blue line 12 games into his Islanders career. He leads the team in average time on ice per game with just under 26 minutes a contest, is second in points only to Yashin and Satan, and is tied for the NHL lead in power play assists with eight. Every night he is matched against the opposition's top forwards and has found a way to quickly adjust his strong physical play to the new obstruction rules.
Between The Pipes
Before every game against a new opponent, Steve Stirling is always asked the same question by the visiting media - "What has been the best aspect of your team's play so far this season?" And Steve's response has always been that the goaltending has kept his team in every contest, night in and night out. Rick DiPietro has started ten of the first twelve games, and has been a top three star of the game four times already, including his amazing performance at MSG on October 19th, stopping 33 of 35 Rangers shots through 65 minutes of action and all three attempts in the shootout. Garth Snow came in cold in Washington midway through the game and got the win, then made 41 saves in Philly in his first start of the season. In his first Coliseum start on Tuesday night, he kept the Islanders in it in the third period with some acrobatic stops that allowed them to win it in overtime.
Rooks In A Row
The three rookies on the squad have all contributed in their own way. Petteri Nokelainen has become a fan favorite already at Nassau Coliseum for his smashmouth brand of hockey. Chris Campoli leads all defensemen with three goals and is logging almost 15 minutes a night. Robert Nilsson's last three games have been his best of the season, and he is now brimming with confidence and should see significantly more playing time in the weeks ahead.
They didn't have a catchy name for their line when they played together for the first 11 games, but Jason Blake, Mike York and Trent Hunter have been the Islanders' most consistently hard-working trio every night. Blake has five goals, York sees the ice so well in all situations and Hunter is a bull along the walls, working pucks free to create scoring chances. All three also excel on the penalty kill and power play units, whether it's generating shorthanded scoring opportunities, killing off a 5-on-3 two man disadvantage or working the puck around while man up to set up a quality PP chance.
If you haven't made it down to the Blue Line Bar & Grill for our live post-game show following all Islanders home games, here's what you've missed so far: Steve Stirling, Alexei Yashin, Brad Lukowich, Chris Campoli, Petteri Nokelainen, Janne Niinimaa and Sudsie Maharaj. We invite you to join us to be a part of the live show, as the interaction our guests have with the live audience always makes it more exciting. The Blue Line Bar & Grill is located inside Nassau Coliseum at ice level, right next to the exit where the Zamboni leaves the ice. From the main lobby of the Coliseum, just go down the big set of stairs and escalators and we're located on the right hand side when you get to the bottom. Hope to see you there soon!
John and I also will begin answering your e-mail questions on-the-air during intermissions very soon. If you have any questions for us or for players on the Islanders, please feel free to send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd also love to hear from you just to let us know where it is you listen to New York Islanders hockey, and whether it's on our flagship station Bloomberg 1130-AM, on the satellite radio services XM or Sirius, or via our webcast link at islanders.nhl.com. Thanks to modern technology, the reach of radio has never been greater, and we just love getting e-mail from around the world, or around the block.