1/25/97 -- 2:13 AM


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - It doesn't matter who's behind the bench, Derek King thinks the New York Islanders' work ethic will be the same.

Rick Bowness took over for Mike Milbury as New York's head coach just hours before New York's 5-2 win Friday over the Whalers, and King's hat trick delivered Bowness his first win.

``It's always `play for the team' no matter who coaches,'' King said. ``I really can't compare the style (of Bowness and Milbury) but the system will be the same, hard work every shift. Both are intense. Maybe one's a little louder than the other.''

Milbury relinquished his coaching duties to soley concentrate as the team's general manager, the Islanders said.

``The guys worked very hard,'' Bowness said. ``It would be nice to put a string together and get back in the (playoff) hunt. The important thing right now is to close the gap and get into the hunt.''

The Islanders (15-23-9) put together a solid effort to follow up an 8-1 rout of Edmonton on Wednesday. It was the first time in a month New York had consecutive victories.

Zigmund Palffy added a pair of goals for the Islanders, who snapped a pair of streaks for the Whalers.

Hartford took an eight-game (6-0-2) unbeaten streak against the Islanders into the game. The Whalers (19-21-7) also had a two-game winning streak end, virtually the team's only success dating back to Dec. 28 (2-8-1).

``We did have pressure but it was always scrambly,'' Whalers coach Paul Maurice said. ``When you score one goal, you don't win too many games against anybody.''

Islanders goaltender Eric Fichaud stopped 34 shots, allowing a breakaway by Hartford's Geoff Sanderson in the first period and a power-play goal by Steven Rice with 31 seconds left.

Hartford goaltender Sean Burke made 22 saves.

The Islanders had opened the scoring at 12:27 on Palffy's first goal. Stopped by Burke from the right circle, Palffy continued to skate to the slot area where he intercepted Burke's clearing pass and beat the goaltender with a backhander.

After Sanderson's goal, New York regained the lead at 2-1 in the second period when King tapped in a feed from Travis Green.

``Tonight we were able to get ourselves going and build off the other night,'' King said. ``There was some wondering if we would come out flat but we kept working.''

The win by the Islanders snapped an eight-game winless streak against the Whalers. The Islanders had been 0-6-2 dating back to March 14, 1995.

Sanderson's goal, his team-leading 25th, was his first in eight games.

Maurice announced after the game that center Jeff O'Neill, the club's top pick in 1994, would be sent to Springfield of the American Hockey League. O'Neill, who has 10 goals for the season, has one goal in his last 19 games.

For Saturday's game in Buffalo, Hartford summoned Hnat Domenichelli and Kevin Brown, the top two scorers on the farm club.

``Jeff is a young fella and maybe he can get his confidence back,'' Maurice said. ``He's not giving us production.''

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