Osgood might have dressed like a peacock, but he is modest and guarded, a defense mechanism from his days in Detroit, where his two Stanley Cups never seemed enough. For all the jibes about the long-distance goals that eluded him in the 1998 playoffs, he is a superb second-shot net-minder. He has been almost immaculate in New York, with a .937 save percentage and two shutouts. Osgood has also kept the Islanders in games after shaky starts. "The mark of a good team is how it reacts when things aren't going in its favor," Osgood says. "When we gave up that late goal to Detroit and wound up losing in overtime [on Oct. 13, when Luc Robitaille scored with 9.4 seconds left in regulation and Steve Yzerman scored the winner], we came back to play probably our best game the next time out [a 4-0 win in Carolina]."
The Islanders showed their newfound resiliency in Carolina last Friday after they were penalized—and scored against on the ensuing power play—for starting an illegal lineup on the opening face-off, a gaffe that would have been a colossal embarrassment for rookie coach Peter Laviolette had he not done the perfect thing after the first period: He told the team he had made a mistake. ("Great," Peca said with a smile after the game. "More money in the fine pool.") Laviolette, who had circled defenseman Roman Hamrlik as a starter on his lineup sheet but had sent out Kenny Jonsson for the opening face-off, admitted the mistake to the media after the game and said it would never happen again, disarming the situation with a directness that has marked his first 10 games.
At 36 he is the league's second-youngest coach, a bristling man who seems in a hurry to get someplace. The Islanders play with the same urgency, forechecking hard, attacking on the penalty kill. "In our first meeting in training camp he told us not to think about fighting for a playoff spot but about winning a championship," says center Claude Lapointe, who in 10 NHL seasons has played in only 13 postseason games, none in his five years in New York. "I elbowed Kenny Jonsson next to me and said, 'This is [our year].' "
Laviolette was not an obvious choice to coach New York, a man with a thin portfolio that consisted of three good minor league seasons (1997-98 through '99-00) behind the bench and one bumpy year in Boston (2000-01) working for coach Mike Keenan. In fact Keenan, who was fired after last season, intimated that Laviolette, on instructions from general manager Mike O'Connell, was undermining him by telling players to use a different forechecking system than the one Keenan wanted. When Laviolette was asked about that at dinner last week, he took a moment to gather himself by saying jokingly to assistant coach Jacques Laperri�re, "More wine, Lappy?" Then he steadied his gaze and answered, "Management and me being against Mike is not true. He had a system. I reemphasized that system. If you're asking if I undermined him at the behest of management, I didn't."
Even if memories of the past seven years of Islanders misery have vanished, in the short term the team is riding a streaking goalie and a hot scorer who's never had more than 26 goals in an NHL season and in the long-term is betting on an $875 million player who has six goals in 26 playoff games. Wherever the colorful ride takes them, though, the scenery will be better. As Wang told the Nassau Coliseum crowd during the Trottier ceremony, these are "your first-place New York Islanders."
Right now they wear the pants in the NHL.
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