December 30, 2002
A fresh start
Islanders look to climb back to .500 for first time in two months
By PETER BOTTE
Two games, two days, two final chances to start fresh after 2002.
The Islanders finally can climb back to .500 for the first time since
they were 3-3-1-0 on Oct. 24 with victories over reeling Florida and
dead-last Buffalo over the final two days of the calendar year.
"What we need to do is throw the old games in the trash and focus on
just one game, the next game," Isles coach Peter Laviolette said
following Saturday's solid 3-0 victory over Carolina. "(Saturday) we
did it. The challenge is can we do it (Monday) against Florida?"
The Panthers remain two points ahead of the Isles (14-16-5-0), mostly
because of their uncanny ability to reach overtime (18 times) this
season. Mike Keenan charged his 10-11-9-6 squad with "playing scared"
in its 2-1 OT loss Saturday to the Rangers.
But Chris Osgood, who clearly has re-established himself as the
Isles' No. 1 goalie after Rick DiPietro's kick-in-the-pants recall
Dec. 18 and demotion Monday to Bridgeport, warned Saturday about the
Isles' history of "laying an egg" against such struggling opponents.
"We've had numerous occasions where it looked like we were ready to
go on a streak, and we ended up losing games we just didn't show up
for," Osgood said. "We still have quite a ways to go to get ourselves
back in...but we're playing much better the last five-six games,
With a 6-3-2 mark with two games remaining in December, Laviolette
believes .500 is a "reachable" goal.
"We struggled the first month (3-6-1-0 in October), were marginally
better in the second month (5-7-2-0 in November). We needed a big
month when the New Year came around just to put a push on to see
where we'd land for a playoff spot," Laviolette said. "But we have to
get back there first."
Winger Mark Parrish, who's scored five goals in his last five games
for a team-high 13, believes the confidence the Isles played with in
Saturday's win over Carolina was reminiscent of last season.
A win over Florida on Monday would give the Isles only their second
winning streak of at least three games this season, but Parrish and
others are hoping this is the start of the run that vaults the Isles
back into the thick of the muddled Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"I like to think we've begun that," captain Michael Peca
said. "There's some signs in our game that are pretty positive, when
a week ago we were talking about other issues. It's something we've
got to hold onto. Harness it and run with it. I think it will be big
for us to get to .500, that will give us a level to get above and
"You struggle to get out of the hole we dug for ourselves, but once
we get to sea level, we'll be able to move up pretty quick."
OS-BETTER: For anyone naive enough to think the Isles had a "full-
blown, five-alarm goalie controversy" brewing, DiPietro was sent back
to Bridgeport before Monday's game.
Still, if summoning the former No. 1 pick from the minors to form a
three-headed monster in goal was intended to spark the Isles, in
general, and Osgood, in particular, it appears to have worked.
The Isles won three of four after DiPietro joined Osgood and veteran
Garth Snow, who hasn't played since Dec. 14. Osgood is 2-0 with a
0.50 GAA since DiPietro arrived, including his 35th career shutout
(first this season) Saturday against Carolina. He also is 4-1-2 with
a .932 save percentage in December.
"I don't really feel like talking about (the three-goalie rotation)
any longer. When (Laviolette) tells us to play, we play," Osgood said
the day before DiPietro's departure. "We all get along great, so
really it's about winning games and getting our team back into the
playoffs. It's never about individuals on a team."
DiPietro was 1-1 with a 2.02 GAA in two starts, but Laviolette
stressed Monday that the 21-year-old former Boston U. star "needs to
play regularly." He likely wasn't going to get that chance with the
Isles this season, Laviolette conceded, if Osgood continued to thrive.
GM Mike Milbury still might trade one of the three before the March
deadline, but Snow would appear to be the likeliest to move. Teams
such as Vancouver, Tampa Bay and Anaheim expected to be in the market
for a veteran backup.
The Isles would have to be overwhelmed to move DiPietro, but a
proposed deal out of Boston for unsigned defenseman Kyle McLaren
clearly does not fit that category.
ROMAN EMPIRE: Roman Hamrlik played 29:30 Saturday, second to Adrian
Aucoin, in his first game in 18 days since he separated his shoulder
Dec. 10 against Chicago. Hamrlik originally was credited with three
assists, but his first one (on Parrish's team-high 13th) was changed
to Aucoin after the game.
"He was one of the better players on the ice," Laviolette said. "It
certainly didn't look like the minutes affected him."
CASHIN' IN: Slumping Alexei Yashin's first goal in 10 games, a 5-on-3
laser in the first, also was a welcome sight for Laviolette: "Goal
scorers especially go through some peaks and valleys...It's more
important to keep working hard and usually that's the best way to
climb out of any slump. He was working hard and it was nice to see
him drop one."
MANGLED WEBB: Agitator Steve Webb is day-to-day with recurring back
spasms, so the Isles recalled tough guy Eric Godard from Bridgeport
for Monday's game against Florida. Shawn Bates (groin) also was
expected to miss his fifth straight game.
QUOTEBOOK: "We're not going to allow anybody to get complacent
anymore. We're going to stay in everybody's faces, ask everybody to
be accountable. For too long, we were looking around and waiting for
somebody else and worrying about other people's performance instead
of worrying about out own...Right now we're just having everybody do
a check in the mirror before they come to the rink, and when they get
to the rink, make sure they're ready to perform their duty on the
ice." -- captain Michael Peca, on accountability in the locker room.