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MICHELETTI: Peca key to Isles' upswing

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What a difference winning makes. With a five-game winning streak to ring in the New Year, the have gotten their season on the upswing largely for these three reasons, not in any particular order: Goaltending, and penalty-killing (now ranked 10th overall in the NHL), of which Peca is a big part. It's hard to say what kind of an effect the temporary three-goalie rotation of -Garth Snow-Chris Osgood had on the team, and particularly on the veteran incumbents in net. To me, Osgood was playing real well before DiPietro was recalled. Chris has been around a long time, so did it effect him at all? Maybe. It's hard to tell, but I know he's a competitor and we've all seen what he can do, hence two shutouts in three games during the five-game run. He had already started to get his game back together, coming off a strong 2-2 game against Detroit on the night DiPietro was called up. In any event, the goaltending has been very good for the Isles, and is not an issue like it was earlier. What Peter Laviolette has done the most of this season is keep his cool. He didn't go crazy or rip his players in the press when the weren't playing that well. He has stayed the course, kept everybody going and found a way to get things together. They still have a lot of work to do, but at least they're back in the thick of things. One important thing is, the team has established more balance in the offense department. Scoring has spread out a bit more, and now there are three lines that can put the puck in the net. (11 goals) is having a terrific year, and has chipped in with 10 goals, and they play on the third line. And then you've got who has stepped in and played better than anyone expected. Laviolette can play him in all situations, including on the improved penalty-killing squad.

U-Turn

The ' low point and turning point both came on the same night. The 4-1 loss in Boston on Nov. 14, in which the team was completely out of the game before the midpoint of 's first full game back in action. Peca hurt his other knee and didn't return, and the game could have easily been 8-1, but Boston put it on cruise control halfway through. The worries of how badly injured Peca was contributed to the Isles' sour showing on the ice. What was crucial was what happened after the game, when Mike Milbury spoke up. He talked to the coaches first, and then he went and talked to the players on the bus, delaying their trip to Pittsburgh for 45 minutes. At the time, there were rumors swirling all over about "Mad Mike" doing something big to get the team going again, like making trades. What he did was the opposite, not that he wasn't concerned or wasn't stern in his approach. His message was, "Last year was not a fluke. You guys are largely the same group from last year, and I believe this is the group that will turn things around. Don't think you're going to get help from me making trades and other things. You are going to help yourselves." That had an important effect. The turned around a couple of nights later and beat the . To me, that's where they began to make the turnaround and look like last year's team.

No Yash potatoes

had a few games this year where, defensively, he would lose his man and guys would go by him. He just was very porous in his own end. He was not the defensively responsible player he was supposed to be, and I think he took some heat for that. Now, you could tell in the last number of games that he's putting a much better effort in the defense zone than he was before and that's helped. It's noticeable to those who have been following closely, as well as his teammates. Some of his defense has actually led to goals for his team. Without question, Alexei has improved. I still think we're going to see a streak from Yashin where he scores 10 goals in five games. Here's someone who averages 35-40 goals a season, and here he is on a pace for around 22 going into the second week of January, which is well below his pace. We haven't seen him get on a prolonged streak where he scores bunches of goals, but we will.

Big man eventually in the plans

Right now, plays in the NHL for his toughness. The Isles can't afford to bring somebody up from Bridgeport and give them minutes just to develop them. If they were 12 games over .500 and cruising along, they could play some of these kids a little bit without necessarily giving away points. When you have a big cushion, you can coach differently. Right now, Peter Laviolette is trying to get a point out of every game he can, so there's no luxury where you can say, "Well, certain players shouldn't be on the ice in certain situations, but this is the only way for them to learn." Godard is a project, and they feel good about some of the other things he can eventually learn to do. Joe Micheletti is in his fifth season as an analyst for games on Fox Sports New York. He spent nearly 20 years prior broadcasting St. Louis games, including work on Fox Sports Midwest. Micheletti, a native of Hibbing, MN, was defenseman for the for three years and spent a year with the Colorado Rockies before they moved to New Jersey. Micheletti's commentary appears on on MSGNetwork.com.
Tagged: Islanders, Blues, Alexei Yashin, Dave Scatchard, Rick DiPietro, Eric Godard, Mattias Weinhandl, Michael Peca, Jason Blake

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