Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic were paired out of necessity and familiarity when Hamonic was called up from Bridgeport right before Thanksgiving of 2010. Jack Capuano had coached both defensemen with the Sound Tigers and believed they would complement each other.
They were the Isles' best defensemen last season, when the team's defense was decimated. With a much healthier blue line this season, the MacDonald-Hamonic pair has been Capuano's go-to duo, the pair he wants on the ice against an opponent's top line.
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After a rough start that mirrored the Islanders' rough start, MacDonald and Hamonic have excelled. Hamonic was a plus-8 over the Isles' three home games last week, MacDonald a plus-5 and the pair has helped keep some big names off the score sheet. The Islanders come into Philadelphia Thursday 6-4-0 in their last 10, allowing only 23 goals in that span.
"We talk a lot before the games, and we talk about how we don't just want to break even against other teams' best guys, we want to win those battles," Hamonic said. "I think we've been playing confidently, not just us, but the whole team."
The entire defensive corps got kudos from Capuano after Tuesday night's 3-0 win over the Capitals in Washington. The Islanders blocked more shots (18) than the Caps got through to Evgeni Nabokov (17), with MacDonald's four blocks leading the way. Hamonic and MacDonald are among the top 20 players in the league in blocked shots, with 101 and 94, respectively.
Part of keeping the defensive side cleaner is making quicker transitions, which MacDonald and Hamonic have been doing during the last two months. "I think we're creating more," said MacDonald, who had one point in his first 22 games, but is 2-3-5 in his last 15. "Our special teams have been good, but I think five-on-five we're getting more zone time and being more active."
In last season's mess on defense, MacDonald (plus-9) and Hamonic (plus-4) were two of only three defensemen on the plus side. The Islanders' defense dug themselves a hole in plus/minus again this season, but the recent run has Hamonic at minus-1 and MacDonald at minus-6, the best numbers among the regulars.
Notes & quotes:The Islanders haven't won in their last 13 visits to Philadelphia, going 0-11-2 since a 4-2 win over the Flyers on April 7, 2007.