Things aren't going well only at the top of the Islanders' organization. All the moves Garth Snow made during the summer and just before the season have a lot to do with a new-found stability further down the organization.
The Sound Tigers moved into first place in the AHL's Eastern Conference with a resounding 6-1 win over the Rangers' Hartford farm team on Friday night, pushing Bridgeport's record to 9-3-0-1 heading into last night's rematch with the Wolfpack.
"The depth piece we added was huge, obviously," Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson said Friday. "We've got some young guys here who could play in the NHL, sure, but they're here playing major minutes, all situations, and it helps the learning process move much faster."
Thompson was Jack Capuano's assistant the past two seasons, so he's seen the Isles prospects who have yo-yoed up and down due to injuries with the big club and he's seen the lack of development that brings -- or, worse, the expectation of being an NHLer.
Of his young defense, Griffin Reinhart (currently out with a lower-body injury), Kevin Czuczman, Scott Mayfield and Aaron Ness have all had a taste of the NHL. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech showed good skill in training camp.
If Snow hadn't gone out and traded for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, one or two of that group would be learning on the fly with the Isles. Instead, they're part of a cohesive defense corps that's shown quite a bit through 13 games.
"Griff has been playing like a veteran. His hockey IQ is through the roof," Thompson said. "Czuczman is like another longtime vet, even though it's his second year pro. Pulock's got the big shot and is a smart player. Pelech is a really underrated defender. These are guys who've been able to learn together."
It doesn't hurt to have great goaltending, which the Sound Tigers have gotten from Kevin Poulin. He has played 49 games over four seasons with the Islanders, but the additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson meant Poulin, still only 24, was ticketed for Bridgeport.
He's sporting a .939 save percentage and 2.04 goals-against average while going 7-1-1 to start the season.
"He's a lot more controlled this year," Thompson said. "He's been athletic, he's always been able to make the acrobatic stop, but it's almost a maturity thing with him. He's working harder to cover pucks, stay in his lanes. Just better control."
Martin acknowledges new fighting reality
The Islanders have only two fighting majors through 16 games and fighting is down all over the league. Matt Martin, who has one fight this season, understands things have changed permanently.
"You don't see too many of the staged fights, right off the draw," he said. "It's definitely harder to find a fight, if you want to go or if someone else wants to. I certainly understand what the coaches want. If we're ahead, there's no reason to fight."
Avalanche enforcer Cody McLeod tried to drop the gloves with Martin on Tuesday during the Isles' 6-0 blowout win -- McLeod did drop his gloves -- but Martin skated away.
Potvin sad, but excited to say goodbye to Coliseum
Denis Potvin will get one last chance as a broadcaster to work at Nassau Coliseum when the Panthers make their only visit to Long Island on Feb. 3. But Potvin will have his own night to say goodbye and, for him, say a few words to the fans who've been around since he made it to the Islanders as a 19-year-old in 1973.
"It will be a great chance to say thanks to the people on the Island who have supported this team," Potvin said before Friday's Panthers-Isles game in Florida. "It will be a little sad, too, because you can't deny that's where it all happened. You wish things could have worked out differently, but you also understand there's factors other than hockey involved."
Potvin's Mini-Locker giveaway night comes on Nov. 29, the second of four consecutive Saturday home dates honoring four of the dynasty-era stars. Billy Smith goes first, this coming Saturday, followed by Potvin, Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies.
"We've certainly had a chance to have these nights in the past," Potvin said. "But this is special. You see the people, fans and Coliseum employees who've been around since the beginning and that's always good.
"It will always be home."