Oct 21, 2001
For seven straight years, losing has been engrained into the heart of the New York Islanders hockey club. Both on and off the ice, crippling blows were dealt that prevented the once proud franchise from moving forward. Instead of goals, wins and playoff appearances, the Islanders only claims to fame were bad owners, shoestring budgets and a dwindling fan base. Barring a miracle, it seemed losing was becoming a persona the organization could not shake.
Enter Mike Peca, Alexei Yashin and Chris Osgood, the three monster acquisitions that Islanders GM Mike Milbury made in the offseason. Peca immediately brought a sense of leadership to the club, something severely lacking in the past several years. Although he has never been part of a championship NHL team, he knows what it takes to win both on and off the ice. Quite frankly, Peca is the total package. Need a penalty killed or a shot blocked? Count on Peca. Need a huge body check to wake up the fans or someone to stick up for a teammate? Peca will be first in line. Or how about a big goal? Not a problem for Peca.
Peca is one of those players who make others around him better. He has done his part to erase the losing mentality and instilled a sense of determination into the minds of teammates. Watch an Islanders game and you'll now see blocked shots, superb penalty killing, grit down low and players taking a beating in front of the net, all for the victory. Michael Peca can be credited with bringing much of this to Long Island.
Meanwhile, Alexei Yashin gives the Islanders one of the most potent weapons in the league. He is masterful at creating open ice for himself and his linemates in the offensive zone. He is a true sniper, something the Islanders have lacked since Ziggy Palffy was shipped off to L.A. Nobody has ever questioned Yashin's talent. Last year he netted 40 goals for the Ottawa Senators. But critics did question his heart and leadership. Now that he is an Islander and a teammate of Peca (the ultimate leader), Yashin sit back and do what he does best, devour opposing defenses.
Yashin and Peca alone would have clearly been enough to put the Islanders ahead of their last place finish a year ago. But to put them over the top, they needed stability in goal. In September's waiver draft, the Islanders got just that in Chris Osgood.
Osgood has been a rock between the pipes this season. No longer are weak goals a nightly enemy of the Islanders. He is constantly well positioned, is a fantastic puck handler and is glowing with confidence after his fantastic start. The Islanders are catching Osgood at a great time. He's in his prime and extremely motivated to show Detroit Red Wings' GM Ken Holland that giving up on him was the wrong thing to do.
Where are all of Milbury's critics now? Given a respectable budget, it looks like he has been able to put together a competitive team. Most GM's would have certainly run into the same problems as Milbury over the last several seasons, given the poor ownership scenarios and severely limited budgets he inherited.
Beyond the major acquisitions of Peca, Yashin and Osgood, Milbury has found gems like Jason Blake, Radek Martinek and Shawn Bates that have given the Islanders much needed depth and nightly enthusiasm. And suddenly the Roberto Luongo (Luongo and Ollie Jokinen for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvahsa) trade of a year ago doesn't look so bad, now that Parrish has had a terrific start and Kvasha has found new life after being paired with Yashin.
The Islanders' 6-0-1-1 start has been the result of a total team effort. When Yashin's line slumped to open the season, Peca's line picked things up. The success of Kvasha on Yashin's left wing has allowed coach Peter Laviolette to move power forward Brad Isbister back on a line with Dave Scatchard and Mats Lindgren. Even the fourth line of Claude Lapointe, Jason Blake and Steve Webb provides intensity, and to some degree a skill level, unmatched on other teams.
Overall, the key to the Islanders success this year is confidence. Everyone believes in each other and knows what it takes to win games. Islander fans are once again having fun. After seven long and miserable seasons, it makes each Islander victory that much sweeter.
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