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Wednesday, 03.15.2006 / 12:00 AM ET / News
New York Islanders
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The New Youth Islanders

by Bloomberg 1130's Chris King

As the Islanders prep for a huge game here in Atlanta, there are several emerging themes as to why the team is playing its most inspired brand of hockey of the entire season.  For me, it's the kids, The Rick, the coach and the schedule, so here's a quick look at each.

Just call them the New Youth Islanders.  The current Isles roster features seven players 22-years old or younger.  Jeremy Colliton is the baby of the group at 20.  Bruno Gervais, Robert Nilsson, Chris Campoli and Jeff Tambellini are just 21-years old.  Sean Bergenheim and Denis Grebeshkov are 22-years young.  And if 20-year old Petteri Nokelainen can battle back from his knee injury before season's end, that would add another player to the kiddie corps.  Six of these eight players were drafted by the Isles, with Tambellini and Grebeshkov coming over from L.A. at the trade deadline.  And let's not forget that Rick DiPietro is all of 24-years old, while Trent Hunter and John Erskine are 25.  That makes half of the Islanders current roster a quarter-century old or younger.  With the post-Olympic compressed schedule to close out the season, youth should really serve the Isles well as they continue their push towards the playoffs.  The Islanders played just four sets of back-to-back games in the first five months of the season, but they have seven sets of back-to-back contests in the final month and a half.


Rick's Run
The biggest reason for the Isles recent turnaround has been the stellar play of goaltender Rick DiPietro.  Going into Thursday's game in Atlanta, Rick has won his last seven straight starts, allowing a total of just nine goals against in that span.  In his last four starts, he has allowed exactly one goal against per game.  Of the four goals total surrendered in those games, three were scored on the power play, with the only even-strength tally against him being Paul Martin's fluky bounce off a dump-in Tuesday night in New Jersey.  The NHL's defensive player of the week has yet to record a shutout this season, but he has held the opposition to just one goal eight times this year, and has permitted only two goals against in a dozen other starts.  That's a total of 20 games with two or less goals allowed, really giving his team a great chance to win every night.  And it's really just a matter of time before that first blanking occurs.


Shaw's Surge
Very little has been written or said about what a remarkable job head coach Brad Shaw has done in turning around the fortunes of this hockey team.  He inherited a team that was 18-22-2 under Steve Stirling, and has them at 13-7-2 through his first 22 games behind the bench.  They are riding a season-best four-game winning streak, and have won six of their last seven.  He has them playing a more focused, disciplined brand of hockey.  He has been able to get everyone involved, rolling out four lines a night on a regular basis.  Despite a tremendous roster turnover due to injuries and trades, the Isles are playing their most consistent hockey of the season when it matters most.  Brad knows when to crack the whip and he knows when to pull back on the reigns, and he is pushing all the right buttons.  His youthful demeanor and temperament are a perfect fit for this hockey club right now.


Stretch Drive
In the Islanders final 18 games of the regular season, they really have a favorable schedule to work with.  With Montreal and Atlanta directly above them in the Eastern conference standings, the Isles have a pair of games remaining against each of those teams, with one at the Coliseum and one on the road.  Each of those contests becomes a "four-point" game in essence, and New York also has one more meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning, currently hanging onto the seventh spot by a thread.  There are also two games remaining against the Maple Leafs, who just won't go away quietly, and one with the Panthers, still trying to catch the pack as well.  But the real wild card in all of this is the Penguins.  The Islanders still have four games remaining against the team with the worst record in the NHL, although they have been playing much better of late.  The Isles have won three of four games from Pittsburgh already, and really need to take at least six or seven points out of those final four contests.  And how about the three games left against the suddenly slumping Rangers?  After dropping the first two meetings with their New York rivals, the Blueshirts have taken the last three straight games from the Islanders, and these remaining head-to-head battles will be huge for each side.  Why do I get the feeling this might all come down to Tuesday night, April 18th at Nassau Coliseum, with the Islanders hosting the Flyers in the regular season finale?  It's going to be a wild ride from here to the finish high-stakes hockey at its best.  




1 WSH 50 37 9 4 163 112 78
2 FLA 52 31 15 6 143 115 68
3 NYR 52 29 18 5 148 134 63
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 DET 52 26 18 8 130 131 60
7 PIT 51 26 18 7 132 130 59
8 NJD 53 26 20 7 119 120 59
9 NYI 50 26 18 6 135 126 58
10 CAR 53 24 21 8 129 141 56
11 PHI 50 23 18 9 119 130 55
12 MTL 53 25 24 4 142 142 54
13 OTT 53 24 23 6 148 165 54
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47


J. Tavares 47 18 19 -6 37
K. Okposo 48 12 25 -9 37
B. Nelson 50 20 11 0 31
F. Nielsen 50 15 16 -2 31
M. Grabovski 50 9 15 1 24
J. Bailey 49 8 15 4 23
A. Lee 50 7 14 0 21
N. Leddy 50 3 17 -12 20
R. Strome 39 5 13 -8 18
N. Kulemin 50 5 9 6 14
J. Halak 12 11 4 .917 2.28
T. Greiss 13 6 2 .927 2.32
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