New York Islanders think positively despite poor predictions

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The New York Islanders have heard the negative talk and seen the gloomy predictions for their season.

Whether it's bravado, competitive spirit, or sheer denial, captain Bill Guerin and his teammates are fully prepared to prove people wrong.

"We kind of get (dumped) on every year no matter what, but it only matters what we believe in our dressing room," Guerin said. "We believe we have a good team. We believe we have not just the opportunity to make the playoffs but to surprise some people when we get there."

That's bold talk considering the Islanders tied for the fourth fewest points in the NHL, were the only team in the Eastern Conference that failed to score 200 goals, didn't have a player reach 50 points, and then said goodbye to three of their top six scorers.

The biggest player brought in to offset the free-agent losses of Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Josef Vasicek - who all netted 16 goals - was former Montreal defenceman Mark Streit, who quarterbacked the power play of the high-flying Canadiens.

With 62 points last season, Streit would have been the Islanders' top scorer. Instead, that dubious honour fell onto returning forward Mike Comrie, who recorded 49 points.

"We've been picked to finish 29th or 30th the past few years. It doesn't mean anything," No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro said. "The most points we had were 49 last year so we're not losing anyone that is putting up 100 points.

"We made key additions. It's unfortunate to lose guys because they're your friends, but at the end of the day I think we're going to be in a good spot."

The job of getting them there belongs to Scott Gordon, brought in to replace bench boss Ted Nolan after capturing the AHL coach of the year award in his sixth year with the Providence Bruins.

Nolan led the overachieving Islanders to the playoffs two seasons ago in his first year but was dismissed in the summer due to philosophical differences that developed between him and general manager Garth Snow.

"One of the things that I noticed is that the guys worked hard in the defensive zone but they worked too much in the defensive zone," Gordon said. "We want to do less of that this year. That in itself will make us a better offensive team."

Gordon has never coached in the NHL in any capacity and is the latest in an ever-growing list of those trying to restore the Islanders not only to the level of glory enjoyed during the dynasty years of the 1980s but to reach simple relevance.

"There is a bit of a difference (between coaches), but hockey is hockey no matter what rink you're in," Guerin said. "If you can have success coaching in one league, the game doesn't change that much when you come up here. You are maybe dealing with a few more egos here and there, but the game is the same."

Toting a new system that he is instilling in crash-course fashion in the hope of keeping the Islanders competitive, Gordon aims to last longer than his most recent predecessors. He is the ninth New York coach in a decade.

"He has given us a lot of direction, a lot of guidance," Guerin said. "That is something that this team needed. We needed somebody to come in and take control and be the boss and that's what we have."

What they also have is a slew of young players, but this crew headlined by Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Jeff Tambellini and 19-year-old draft pick Josh Bailey, won't have the luxury of being eased into the program.

They will be counted on to hit the ice running and contribute right away.

"We expect a lot of our younger guys," Comrie said. "It's asking a lot but we need them to step in and play important minutes. That being said, we definitely need our veterans to lead by example. We need the most out of everyone to be competitive."

Comrie and Guerin have a season on Long Island already under their belts, and they are joined by Doug Weight - a former 100-point scorer who had only 59 last season with Anaheim.

"We do have some solid young players on our team but we also have some veteran guys that can still play and want to prove to be people that they can still play," said Guerin, who scored a team-high 23 goals last season. "It's a good mixture that we have.

"They had about a 10-year stretch that was tough. Most of that was past management that dug the team in a pretty deep hole talent-wise with some bad trades and bad signings and things like that. That sets a team back. ... Now we have solid ownership, we have solid management, we have good young players in our organization and things are going in the right direction. It should be a good place to play."

In the long run, DiPietro's health and success will ultimately determine if the Islanders can contend for a playoff spot.

At 26, he already has had surgery on both hips - including one during this off-season - and underwent a knee operation. That is on top of a history of concussions. DiPietro was limited to 63 games last season and made only one preseason appearance - a 6-0 loss at Florida on Monday.

"I'd like to play at least 70 games," DiPietro said. "I wouldn't even call them injuries. The hips were more maintenance. I was told by doctors to get them done, I'd be better off long term.

"I had a knee done, just cleaned up. That's what the summer is for."


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