You know who must be feeling pretty good these days? Garth Snow.
I know, it's early, but let's give the guy some props. The Islanders are 9-4 with 18 points, just two points behind the first-place Flyers and one behind the Rangers (who they've beaten twice) despite playing three and four fewer games than those teams, respectively. His off-season acquisitions have pretty much all played very well - Guerin, Vasicek, Comrie and Fedotenko chief among them.
Snow took a lot of heat as he watched an exodus take place and then fill the void with players who were less than no-brainers. But you could see now that the man had a plan, one that coach Ted Nolan shares in completely. Nolan talks a lot about 'character guys' and the Isles have them in spades, and all the preseason talk about how tightly-knit the team was in training camp wasn't just smoke. This group has come together quickly and it works hard, and so far it has paid off.
It helps when you have someone like Rick DiPietro in the net, and Saturday night D.P. was outstanding, making 20 saves in the 2-1 win over the Devils. DiPietro and Martin Brodeur staged quite a duel, but in the end it was Miroslav Satan -- again -- who came up big with the game-winning goal.
It was a thing of beauty and came on a 5-on-3 power play in the third. With the crowd hollering for the Islanders to SHOOOOOOOOT (I never understood that -- these guys know what they're doing, let them work the advantage, please) Chris Campoli (2 assists) threw the puck down to Trent Hunter at the lower left circle, and Hunter fired a perfect pass through the crease to Satan at the right post. I've run that play many times in dome hockey, with similarly successful results.
It got a little hairy at the end as the Isles missed two good chances to put the game away with the net empty, and sure enough the Devils came too close for comfort in the final 20 seconds, but DiPietro held strong. The win gave the Islanders a 5-1 homestand, and that's what you like to see - a team that plays big at home. And with 15,000-plus on hand, that helps, too.
Fun fact learned on the broadcast: the Isles' Ben Walter is the son of NHL standout Ryan Walter, who played 15 seasons, mostly with the Capitals and Canadiens. He scored 38 goals and had 49 assists for the Caps in 1981-82, and yet Washington still traded him to Montreal, where he eventually won a Cup. The Caps did get Rod Langway in the deal, though.