- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

At this stage of last season, the New York Islanders were deep into discussions about where to hold their postseason party, the one that would begin the day after the regular season ended.
Welcome back, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin, Gord Lane and Mike Bossy, Al Arbour and John Tonelli. It's been a while.
The New York Islanders of the recent past have apparently burrowed into the sand of Long Island and disappeared, at least for the time being, replaced by a new breed brought on board by new owners who decided to pump something into the team instead of just taking out.
The No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference right now? The Islanders, with 15 victories in 23 games; last season they had 21 in 82 games. They have already won eight games on the road this season; they won only nine all of last season.
How is this happening?
"They picked up two big time centers [Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca] and a No. 1 goaltender [Chris Osgood] and I think that explains everything," said Washington coach Ron Wilson yesterday.
The Caps face the Isles on Long Island tonight and have gone 19 straight games against New York without a loss (17-0-2), the longest active unbeaten streak by any NHL team over another. The Caps haven't lost at Nassau Coliseum a spot where they were once regularly handed their lunch in very rude fashion since Dec. 7, 1996; they have won nine in a row in the building.
"In every sport that's one of the core principals strength up the middle, and you're going to improve dramatically. And they have," Wilson said. "They got two centers who can get the wings the puck and also score themselves, and they've got a goaltender who if the defense makes any mistakes, he bails them out. In the past that hasn't happened.
"And with someone like Jacques Laperriere helping the defense, a defensive concept and everybody on the same page, defensively they're getting the job done."
That was one of the first things rookie head coach Peter Laviolette preached, defense, and almost immediately added Kelly Miller to his coaching staff, recognizing the good work ethic and strong defensive background the wing had.
How far has the team come? Mark Parrish is an excellent example. In two seasons with the Florida Panthers, he had 50 goals in more than 150 games. In 23 games this season, he already has 16, third best in the league. Last season he was minus-27 defensively; this season he is plus-7, a turnaround of plus-34, and the U.S. brain trust that picks Olympic teams is taking a long look at the Edina, Minn., native.
Yashin came down from Ottawa and signed a huge contract; Peca came from Buffalo and signed a nice deal, too. Osgood was exposed in the waiver draft by Detroit and was snapped up, possibly the missing piece that will allow the Islanders to be competitive right now while young prospects develop in the minors.
If the Islanders have a flaw right now it is the same one many NHL teams have, a lot of goals from just a few people and not many elsewhere. Combined, right wing Parrish and Yashin have 29 of the club's 65 goals; only one other player, Shawn Bates, has as many as seven.
Washington was on the ice for 45 minutes yesterday but Wilson spent part of that time diagramming material on a board for the whole team and more time discussing strategy and deployment with the defensemen.


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