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21 ноября 2006 года. 
Yashin's back in stride. Isles captain lives up to his billing. Gets fresh start under coach Nolan

PAUL HUNTER

There wasn't one great epiphany for Alexei Yashin. To hear him tell it, there hasn't really been any change at all.

But, at some point between last season and this one, the light, likely a red one, clicked on for the Islanders' captain.

The centre — once signed to a 10-year, $87.5 million (U.S.) contract that invited critical scrutiny — has finally started to live up to his billing in New York.

"He's definitely stepped up his game. ... I don't know why or what the secret is to it but there's definitely a little bit more fire there. He's competing every night and it's good to see,'' says teammate Jason Blake.

Indeed, Yashin leads the Islanders in scoring with 23 points in the 19 games after last night's date with the Leafs. It's his best start to a season in more than a decade. You'd have to dust off old Ottawa Senators' media guides to find a better opening quarter for the 33-year-old. During his rookie campaign in 1993-94 he had 24 points in his first 18 games.

Ask Yashin whether he is playing with more desire and he doesn't want to go there, politely couching his responses with practised answers about the team being more experienced and playing better.

"When the team wins, it's much better for everybody,'' he says. "I try to do the best I can.''

Still, if you buy the theory that Yashin's effort hasn't changed through 13 NHL seasons, there's no denying that circumstances around him have changed.

He plays in front of a goaltender (Rick DiPietro) with a 15-year contract, deflecting attention from his own monster deal. He is being used in roles that were once foreign to him, including the penalty kill, which keep him in the flow of the game. And his coach is known for, as Toronto bench boss Paul Maurice put it, "the ability to squeeze (the best) out of some players and get that good feeling going."

Ted Nolan, the Isles' coach, was frozen out of the league so long he certainly understands the value of a fresh start. And he got that good feeling going with Yashin right after he was hired. Nolan took Yashin for dinner to get a measure of the man and to essentially pass on the message that he was a big supporter of the centre. Words are one thing but Nolan showed it was more than that by resisting pressure to strip Yashin of the captaincy.

"You hear different stories but from the first moment I sat down with him, I knew this guy was a quality guy,'' Nolan recalls of that first meeting.

"He's a classy gentleman. He has a passion for the game. Unfortunately he had some bad raps put upon him which were maybe undeserving sometimes. But he worked extremely hard this off-season.''

Maurice believes Yashin benefited from being seen from a fresh perspective.

"That's the advantage sometimes of seeing new coaches come in. They see players differently. You don't have to carry the baggage of a player,'' said Maurice. "That why we (coaches) need to get fired once in a while.''

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