PRETTY DARN PERFECT
By Kerry Gwydir and Chris Botta
Captain Alexei Yashin had two goals and an assist to lead the way with a star-like performance in the Islanders' highly impressive 6-1 win over the Devils at the Meadowlands. But, once again, it was the effort of the Islanders' kids that has raised the hopes of fans and opened the eyes of head coach Brad Shaw.
"When you have everyone contributing like that, from the vets to the kids, it's a fun game to play and to watch," said Shaw.
The Islanders have now won four games in a row, and six of seven. They pressured Martin Brodeur early, but it was Rick DiPietro who wound up with the highlight-reel stop in the first four minutes of the game to keep the hosts off the board. The Islander goaltender snatched a point-blank one-timer off the stick of Jamie Langenbrunner from the hashmarks that was destined for the top portion of the cage. Even from the outer reaches of the arena, you could see Langenbrunner smiling and shaking his head.
"Ricky playing the way he's playing is the number one reason why we're playing our best hockey of the season," said Yashin.
Then it was rookie Jeff Tambellini, acquired last week from the LA Kings with Denis Grebeshkov, notching his first NHL goal at the 7:23 mark against future Hall of Famer Brodeur. Shawn Bates and Jason Blake combined to make the goal sequence occur when Bates fired a slapper at the Devil's net. Brodeur made the stop, but Tambellini, situated in front, patiently held the puck and deposited it behind the New Jersey goaltender.
"Dad's going to get a call in a little while," said Jeff, referring to former Islander Cup-winner and current Canucks assistant GM Steve Tambellini. "I hope he has his cell phone on."
The rookies continued to produce for the Isles with 5:05 left in the opener as Sean Bergenheim, filling in on the top line for the injured Arron Asham (felled by an ankle earlier in the period), snuck a sharp-angled shot through Brodeur's pads. The left winger, barreling down the left wing, unleashed a slapper from the left faceoff circle that appeared to fool the Devil's goaltender and trickled over the goal line.
The injury list continued to grow in the second period as Alexei Zhitnik had to be helped off the ice eight minutes in with an ankle injury. The Islanders' assistant captain fell awkwardly on his right leg after being hit by New Jersey's Grant Marshall. Zhitnik had to be helped off the ice and could not put weight on his right leg.
Yashin and his rookie linemates combined again for the third Isles goal with 8:51 to go in the second and the captain's 20th of the season. Yashin beat former Islander Brad Lukowich to a rebound in front of the net after Bergenheim spun around Ken Klee and fired the puck towards the net. Brodeur punched the puck out front where the Islander captain one-timed the loose change over the New Jersey keeper's trapper.
The pair combined for a third time, this time with 1:42 left in the second as Yashin snapped home his second of the period. Again, it was Bergenheim taking the puck hard to the net and finding the captain untouched on the far post for the score.
"The young guys always have a smile and they are always playing hard," Yashin said of his linemates Bergenheim and Robert Nilsson. "They're fun to be around and fun to play with."
Shaw had recently spoken with the supercharged Bergenheim about channeling his energy in the right spots. The former first round pick responded tonight with his best game in the NHL.
"I think my game is at a good level now," said Bergenheim, who had a goal and two assists.
The same could be said for all of Shaw's team, who play their next in an on-going series of big games Thursday night in Atlanta.
NOTES: Shawn Bates scored 36 seconds into the third to make the score 5-0. Bates, who prior to the game told reporters he needed to contribute more, finished the game with a goal and an assist...John Erskine scored his first as an Islander at 5:01 to make it 6-0...
The Islanders out-shot New Jersey 26-17. DiPietro, who will lead highlight reels with his first period save on Langenbrunner that set the tone for the game, finished the game with 16 saves and was named the game's third star. Yashin was No. 1 and Bergenheim No. 2...
A fluke goal by Paul Martin off the sideboards midway through the third ended DiPietro's shutout bid and finished the scoring...Asham and Zhitnik were diagnosed with ankle injuries and missed the rest of the game. They will be re-evaluated by the Islanders' medical staff on Wednesday...
Joel Bouchard, Tambellini, Bates and Jason Blake finished with a team-leading plus-3...In Zhitnik's absence, Chris Campoli played a very steady 25 minutes and Denis Grebeshkov 23:40...The official scorers credited the Devils with 26 hits and the Islanders with a total of 9. Trent Hunter was given credit for 0 hits. Hmmm...
(15) Jeff Tambellini-(79) Alexei Yashin-(21) Robert Nilsson
(7) Trent Hunter -(16) Mike York-(81) Miroslav Satan
(55) Jason Blake-(17) Shawn Bates-(45) Arron Asham
(10) Sean Bergenheim-(28) Wyatt Smith-(49) Eric Godard
(4) Joel Bouchard-(3) Denis Grebeshkov
(77) Alexei Zhitnik-(24) Radek Martinek
(14) Chris Campoli-(44) John Erskine
(39) Richard DiPietro
(30) Garth Snow
(26) Patrik Elias-(23) Scott Gomez-(14) Brian Gionta
(20) Jay Pandolfo-(11) John Madden-(15) Jamie Langenbrunner
(9) Zach Parise-(18) Sergei Brylin-(29) Grant Marshall
(22) Viktor Kozlov-(10) Erik Rasmussen-(25) Cam Janssen
(6) Tommy Albelin-(28) Brian Rafalski
(5) Colin White-(7) Paul Martin
(21) Brad Lukowich-(8) Ken Klee
(30) Martin Brodeur
(40) Scott Clemmensen