Part Three of the Islanders twenty game report looks at the defense and goaltending.
Brendan Witt: An absolute force on defense, shutting down wingers, not taking penalties and putting his body in front of any shot he can get to. Total warrior and as many have said has adjusted his game to the new NHL and keyed a defensive unit that has helped keep the pressure off the goaltender and played outstanding in so many games with no margin for error.
Radek Martinek: A few sloppy turnovers but is in a critical role on the top defensive pairing for the first time in his career and is doing it after coming back from a major injury. Has been outstanding winning battles and quickly moving the puck out by carrying it or finding forwards with the open pass. His offensive game is not improving but on this team he is not on the power play. Has played almost exclusively with Brendan Witt.
Chris Campoli: The fast start in terms of goals stopped but his offensive instincts are only getting better as he knows when to step up. Defensive play also keeps improving and a perfect balance to his defensive partner who he has excellent chemistry with. He is displaying a nasty edge to his game in the physical department and doing it legally which is how you force the opposition to take retaliation penalties. Folks forget how young Campoli is and the more he plays, the more it looks like he is part of the long-term answer and clearly he can play in the top four of a club's defense and there is no doubt he has won over Ted Nolan.
A stronger and even more steady presence on defense than Campoli without the offense or the big hits. Has a lot of Kenny Morrow's quiet defensive ability about him as he gets into position and wins the puck which helps keep the pressure off. Looks more relaxed than a year ago, has earned the club's confidence and his spot in the top four and should only get better. His offensive ability was there in Bridgeport but for now the club should just let his natural progression continue because he too looks like part of the long-term answer. Given the performance, his age and the responsibility he has been given it's an excellent start.
Andy Sutton: A terrible start, some goals off of him blocking shots and a few awful decisions made this long like a bad signing early and still has some plays like the one against Montreal for the first goal. More and more he is settling into his role here and just playing steady hockey, blocking shots and moving the puck to the winger. Has a nice ability to step up and hit but takes a few penalties when he does not time in right and does upset the opposition with his play. He does not step in much on offense in this system.
Bryan Berard: It's been a wild ride in his second stint in New York between the late signing, missing games with a groin injury and a few big goals. He has more a physical edge to his game by stepping up and leveling a few Bruins and Rangers in recent games and seems to be concentrating on defense. His pp work has been spotty but it seems more a byproduct of the forwards struggles to gain the zone and set up. Clearly the talent is still there for Berard and he's been an asset. Considering how much he has been injured for so long it's a good start.
Marc-Andre Bergeron: Last year he has no pressure or expectations. Sutton's early struggles also have to be included in his grade but it seems when he is given the responsibility of being in a prime position as he was early with expectations his defensive game has problems. Offensive and power play game are excellent, he has an outstanding shot that produced a big goal against the Rangers. Unfortunately his defense and six defenders doing better overall make him a seventh defender or a scratch. It's easier to give him a lower grade here but Sutton's early struggles have to play into this. Too bad he cannot relax on the defensive end. On this defense they will have injuries and he will get his chances again.
Rick DiPietro: Fourth fewest shots against in the league is a far cry from last year when he has to be great every game and stop near the most. He still faces a lot of high quality chances against. Has been cool under pressure, is not stealing many games but is playing with virtually no margin for error on a team with two goals or less for nine games in a row that is keeping pace but there is the occasional soft goal like against Boston. What's interesting is his composure level seems much higher and his movement is down. It seems to have improved his puck handling as in several games he's been like a third defender and almost never makes a bad decision outside of one against Carolina. At Msg during one Ranger power play he took three pucks under pressure behind his goal and easily elevated down the ice.
Wade Dubielewicz: Impossible to grade on such a small workload. Has a tired Islander team in Toronto who did not play well in front of him, was outstanding against Pittsburgh when he had to be.