Saturday Rick DiPietro got his first win since December 2008 -- might as well follow that up for a packed house Monday afternoon with his first shutout since Feb. 21, 2008, right? (First shutout over the Devils since Nov.16, 2007, by the way).
In truth, the Islanders -- as is suddenly their form -- came out and dominated from the first minute, giving DiPietro little work and little worry for the entire game. Third period versus the Sabres excepted, this is a team clicking on all cylinders, not even allowing the opposition to get close enough to pose questions about the rust and health of whichever goalie is in net.
Before we could catch our breath to remark, "Wow, great opening shift," Matt Moulson slipped a backhand past Martin Brodeur 1:07 into the game. The Isles swarmed Brodeur in the opening period, and only some fantastic saves -- and one horribly premature whistle that robbed Richard Park of a goal -- kept it from being 4-0 before the first intermission.
It was domination from beginning to end -- with only a 2-on-1 truly testing DiPietro -- so the question becomes: What on Earth is going on here? How have the Isles shut out Detroit and New Jersey and dispatched the Sabres in between?
Very Islanders- and Brodeur-Centric Highlights
Everybody on Board
First star Matt Moulson said in the post-game that the Isles have been adhering to their "systems play." Ironically, it's not the much-debated Scott Gordon forecheck that has made the difference lately -- it's that their neutral zone play and backchecking has cut down on opposition chances, allowing said forecheck to deliver the blows that create these early leads.
Today, shots were 46-20 for the Isles, and all four lines had a part in that. The only two Islanders skaters without a shot on goal were Jack Hillen and Kyle Okposo -- each of whom had an assist and an effective game in his own right.
Those on Board are, Well, Good
Sean Bergenheim has re-entered the lineup and picked up right where he left off. He's not only one of the team's best penalty killers, he's also a tenacious pain in the arse who draws penalties. Put him back in the lineup and he's an instant upgrade over any of the third or fourth liners bumped down or currently on the shelf.
Add Doug Weight, who has settled the bench and made the powerplay look far more creative (if not yet dangerous), and you have some recent upgrades that have rippled through the team's depth.
The Kid Line, BTO, What You Will
Perhaps you've heard? The Islanders have three top-ten first-round picks on a line right now, and it shows. Josh Bailey's emergence as a scoring left winger on that line with fellow kids John Tavares and Kyle Okposo has made them an absolute blast to watch. Bailey got the sweet redirection goal to stick a fork in the Devils and make it 3-0. Okposo and Tavares combined on a great powerplay shift to set up Mark Streit for the goal that made it 2-0.
Bailey has 15 points in his last 15 games, and he's plus-9 in that time, without ending a single game on the minus side of the ledger.
So that's four wins in a row (two via shootout), and 9-1-2 in the last 12 (including four shootout wins). No parades yet, no assumption of DiPietro peak form nor "over the hump" leaps. But the fact is the Islanders are currently in a playoff position after 49 games (three teams behind them have enough games in hand to change that), and they've earned that position. If they make another statement tomorrow against the Penguins, I think you know who will be the trendy talk of the NHL in the coming days.
I mentioned in the game preview that I had hope against the dominant Devils thanks to the Isles' recent form and their two out-of-nowhere thrashings of the Devils late last season. What's funny is this game unfolded just like those two (4-0 and 7-3 routs): The Islanders just came out strong and never let up. I know it's a different coach this year (and honestly, I look forward to how the tactical Jacques Lemaire gameplans the Islanders in the future), but something that was very much a common thread of all three victories over the Devils: Youth rising.
Last year was the painful rip of the bandaid off the flesh. This year is watching the wounds start to heal. (Next year comes the lovely burden of actual expectations.) So keep it up, boys. You're making believers out of a whole lot of long-tortured fans.
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Not Only But Also: Couple of nice stories on nhl.com -- one on Rick DiPietro not wanting to be the story (more coming, I'm sure), the other on a certain future power forward Matt Martin, who likes to crunch opponents and take names. ... Some SBN hockey writers did a roundtable on several NHL topics, including the Burrows/Auger incident and the impact of Olympic hockey. It's made for weighing in and disagreeing, etc., so if you see something debatable, have at it ... Finally, long-time fans will appreciate Gabe at Behind The Net's look at the best powerplays in history, as a certain Islanders squad measures up quite well indeed.
Since DiPietro's post-game interview video from the Sabres game was removed from the Islanders site (What? Quips about domestic stamina are off-limits?), enjoy his reaction to his first shutout since the Bush Administration: