BY GREG LOGAN
Newsday Staff Writer
December 23, 2006, 11:05 PM EST
After the Islanders' off-ice follies of summer, including management upheaval and the landmark 15-year contract awarded to goaltender Rick DiPietro, fans of a fast-fading franchise would have found it hard to believe their team would have 18 victories, 39 points and be in playoff position at the Christmas break.
But that's exactly where they are after a 4-0 victory over Columbus Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum. It was the third shutout of the season and ninth of his career for DiPietro, who made 26 saves, and it left Islanders' spirits soaring as they prepare for the season's first visit by the Rangers the day after Christmas.
No one was happier than owner Charles Wang, who made a postgame locker-room visit with senior vice-president Mike Milbury. The smiling owner expressed his pleasure with a crowd of 11,797 that included a few hundred students in the arena on $19 tickets, and he was optimistic about where this team might be headed.
"Give it a chance," Wang said. "I'm not going to say I told you so. But it's great to see the guys so fired up. We're sold out for the Rangers, and we're close to a sellout for the Devils [Dec. 30]."
For the first time in franchise history, the Islanders won for the sixth straight time on the second night of a back-to-back set. It's an obscure stat, but it says something about the resilience they have shown.
(1940 Note: it's actually the first time that they've opened a season by winning six straight times on a back-to-back. The club record is actually 9)
"We came out with a lot of urgency," DiPietro said. "This was a big one because teams in our division continue to win."
The penalties that plagued the Islanders one night earlier in Carolina, when they gave up four power-play goals in a 5-1 loss, continued against the Blue Jackets. But when the Islanders' penalty killers, including DiPietro, are as sharp as they were last night, it doesn't matter. Columbus, which went 0-for-9 on the power play, mustered only five shots on goal in its first four chances, and DiPietro withstood everything the Jackets threw at him when they got warmed up later in the second period.
DiPietro was anxious to get back in net when he left Carolina because he knew this was a big spot going to the break, and it ended with the crowd chanting, "DP! DP!"
In the postgame TV interview on the ice, an .excited DiPietro said he was looking forward to a full house against the Rangers, but he tempered his enthusiasm later when asked about the Isles' surprising progress to this point.
"We have a very competitive team, and I think guys are happy with the progress," DiPietro said. "But [Friday night in Carolina] was an indication there's a lot of work to be done."
Just in case the Islanders needed a wake-up call last night, Sergei Fedorov rang a shot off the left post less than two minutes into the game. But the rebound caromed out to Alexei Yashin near his own blue line. He fed Jason Blake in the middle, and he basically used Columbus de.fense.man Adam Foote to screen goaltender Fredrik Norrena for his 20th goal of the season.
The Islanders extended their lead in the second period thanks to one great, hustling shift by the Mike Sillinger-Andy Hilbert-Trent Hunter line. All three had chances, including one by Hilbert that landed on top of the net. But they never stopped working until Hilbert made a pass out from behind the goal line, and Hunter one-timed it from the slot at 6:33.
In the third period, the Islanders put the game out of reach with a power-play goal by Sillinger and one at even strength by Viktor Kozlov. DiPietro called it the best job of protecting a third-period lead that the .Islanders have done this season. When it was over, they had .reason to celebrate with Wang.
"He was just happy about the win," DiPietro said of the owner. "He could see the guys are pouring their heart and soul into the game."
Mr. Wang is wrong about tickets--pairs were available as of midnight (through Ticketmaster).
<<New York Islanders vs. New York Rangers
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
Tue, Dec 26, 2006 07:30 PM
Section Row Type Ticket Price Convenience Charge Description
103 D Full Price Ticket US $120.00 US $5.50
103 D Full Price Ticket US $120.00 US $5.50
Forever1940 is the nom de plume of FSN statistician Eric Hornick.
Eric, who has worked the Stanley Cup Finals four times, will celebrate his 25th anniversary as the statistician on Islander home telecasts on January 21, 2007. Often referred to on-air as an actuary, he is one of 2,890 Fellows of the Casualty Actuarial Society and is the President-Elect of the Casualty Actuaries of Greater NY.
You can find him in the "Best Seat in the House", about six feet to Howie and Billy's left, at most Islander home games.
For more on the actuarial profession, visit www.beanactuary.org