Islanders fans took a collective sigh of relief today as the miserable 14-game losing streak came to an end as Rick DiPietro earned a 2-0 shutout victory over the New Jersey Devils this afternoon.
The goals were scored by Jesse Joensuu and Rob Schremp while the Islanders penalty killing units were worked hard today, specifically in the third period. Jack Capuano’s squad had control over most of the first forty minutes of the hockey game, but the Devils began to increase the pressure with time winding down in the third period. With almost a full minute two-man advantage, with about an additional three minutes of power play time to kill after Dylan Reese and James Wisniewski were both in the box, the Isles would hold off the Devils power play units to achieve their first win in almost a month.
“It was huge for us,” said Blake Comeau in regards to the Islanders penalty killing. “We talked about it going into the third, stay out of the penalty box and limit turnovers. It was just a tough break. Wiz was going for the puck and got his stick up. But a five-on-three kill like that, killed off the whole four minute power play, it goes to show that we’re battling hard and it’s finally good to see the results.”
Stan Fischler joked that the Islanders looked as if they had won 14 games in a row instead of coming one loss short of tying a franchise record, but Comeau knows the real challenge lies ahead.
“We can’t be satisfied with just one win. We can’t act like we won 14 in a row. We have to realize what got us success tonight.”
A large part of that success came from the Islanders AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, as Jesse Joensuu has been up with the team over the past week and defenseman Travis Hamonic made his NHL debut Wednesday night.
“It’s huge,” said Comeau in regards to the Sound Tigers call-ups. “Hamonic has played unbelievable since he’s been up here. He looks like he’s played in the league forever. Joensuu I thought had a really strong last couple of games. He’s a big boy and he’s just got to keep playing the way he’s been playing.”
Hamonic did appear to be very comfortable in an NHL uniform. At times he was seen making smart defensive plays, such as a big hit in front of Rick’s crease to prevent a scoring chance in the first period. If he keeps playing like this, Jack Capuano may feel comfortable giving the kid more playing time with Jack Hillen, Mike Mottau, Mark Streit and Milan Jurcina all out due to injuries.
“You know I think whenever you get called up like this you want to get better shift by shift, game by game, day by day,” said Hamonic after the game. “In the first game (vs. Columbus) I think every period I got better and I picked up my play. I think tonight I picked up right where I left off last game in the third period and I progressed as the night went on a lot easier tonight. And obviously playing with Wizzy made it really easy on me tonight. I’m happy with how I played but there is always better, and I keep wanting to help all the guys so I’m going to try everything I can to help them.”
He told me that it did feel good to be part of the squad that ended the losing streak.
“Whenever you get the big two points and can win a game and contribute to the team and helping the team get the win, it’s a great feeling. There’s nothing like winning a game, so it’s all smiles here today but we’re going to be back to work next weekend and we’re going to want more than just one win.”
The Islanders are off until next Thursday when they will host the Rangers in the first of a home-and-home series with their cross-town rivals. Whether or not Hamonic will still be with the team is uncertain, but he’s already taken note of what NHL players do differently in comparison to the AHL.
“The biggest thing for me is playing positionally. Everyone up here is a pro and everyone here knows how to play the game properly. Guys are always in the right position. Granted the speed and the strength of the guys is faster and quicker but it seems like, in a sense, positionally it’s a lot easier to play because people are always in the right position. There’s a lot of talk on the ice which really makes it easier and simplifies the game.”
The transition may have been the easiest part for Hamonic since a lot of the guys on the current Islanders roster are from Bridgeport. Even the current head coach, Jack Capuano, was his head coach back in Bridgeport just a few weeks ago.
“Whenever you can see familiar faces, that’s going to make things a lot easier and really calm you down,” said Hamonic.
Capuano was pleased with the way his team played but noticed that there are specific areas in everyone’s game that still needs improvement if they want to start digging themselves out of this huge hole that they’ve created.
“I know who they are and I know what they are capable of doing,” said Capuano. “I’m not hesitant to use those guys in any particular time. Obviously we’re going through our struggles here so if we got to make some changes and give some guys more minutes we’ll do that.”
“The kids are going to get an opportunity.”
For guys like Travis Hamonic, this is the time for them to show that they can play in the NHL. Joensuu got his legs moving today with several scoring opportunities, including the game winning goal, which was scored shortly after the opening face-off. They were called up to end the streak and they were able to be part of the solution. Now it’s time for them to take charge and push themselves further.