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Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 12:40 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Tortorella delighted with Gaborik’s play

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has had his ups and downs with high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik during their two-plus seasons together. As the Rangers head into tonight's visit to the Nassau Coliseum, they're definitely on the ups.

Not only is Gaborik leading the Rangers with 9 goals and 15 points, he has, in Tortorella's eyes, been the Rangers' most consistent player through the first six weeks of the season -- a stretch that includes New York's current six-game winning streak.

Scoring never has been a problem for Gaborik, a two-time 42-goal scorer – including 2009-10, his first season with the Rangers. It's been the other areas of the game that Tortorella says have seen the most improvement.

"Where I think he's made tremendous improvement is his play away from the puck -- the back pressure, being in the right position when he doesn't have the puck," Tortorella said after the morning skate at the Coliseum. "I think he's finding out that when we play better team defense, we have the puck more."

Gaborik took a lot of heat from Tortorella last season, when he slumped from 42 goals to 22. Now, he's on pace to surpass his career high in goals this season -- and his plus-8 rating is second on the team and tops among forwards.

"He's a proud man. He's a good man, and he did not like how it worked out last year," Tortorella said. "You could sense that he was going to have a really good year. He's certainly off to a very good start."

Tortorella said most of the coaching he and his staff do is team-oriented, rather than working with individual players, and gave Gaborik the credit for his improved play.

"It comes down to the player's willingness to do it and realizing it does work, as far as playing good defense to help out your offense," he said of Gaborik's improvement without the puck.

"He's a smart guy. Ever since I met him, and that was three years ago, he's asked questions. You can tell that he's engaged. I think there's a motivation there with Gabby, where he wants to help his team get to the next level. He knows he has the ability; it's just a matter of consistently doing it."
Posted On Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 11:50 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Niederreiter's back, but will he play?

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Nino Niederreiter's two-week conditioning stint with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers is over -- he scored goals in each of his last three games. The New York Islanders' top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is back on Long Island, but coach Jack Capuano won't commit to playing him in Tuesday night's game against the New York Rangers.

In fact, Capuano wouldn't commit to what his lines would look like when his team takes the ice tonight, other than that Evgeni Nabokov will make his second straight start in goal, with Al Montoya as his backup.

"I think that he can bring an element of size and physicality to our lineup," Capuano said of the 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward, who looked good in training camp before suffering a groin injury. "What I'd like to see him do is like all the other guys -- play within the team structure but play loose and enjoy yourself."

There hasn't been much to enjoy on the Island lately. The Islanders are mired in a 1-6-3 slump that began after a 4-2 victory against the Rangers at the Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 15. That includes an 0-2-1 road trip that ended with a 4-1 loss at Vancouver on Sunday night.

"Some guys are squeezing their sticks right now," Capuano said. "As bad as the last couple of weeks (have been), we've had some chances; we’re just not scoring."

As for what he's looking for from Niederreiter, whether it's tonight or later in the week?

"I want him to play like he played at Bridgeport," Capuano said. "He worked hard and got himself back to where he needed to be.

"Obviously he's had some success in junior hockey; he scored some big goals. For us -- top nine, with some power-play time. He's got quick hands for a big guy. Hopefully we'll get some pucks to the net, he'll get to the net and good things will happen."

Niederreiter spent nine games with the Islanders last season before being returned to Portland of the Western Hockey League. The Islanders could send him back again, but he wants to make the kind of impression that will keep him on Long Island for good.

"I'm excited to be back here," he said. "If I get the chance tonight, hopefully I can score.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can every night to show (GM) Garth (Snow) that I can stay here and he can't send me down. This is definitely where I want to be."

Posted On Saturday, 11.05.2011 / 2:06 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Tavares excited to play with Grabner

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – John Tavares knows he’d better get his legs going early tonight.
With the New York Islanders mired in a six-game losing streak and having scored a League-low 18 goals in 11 games, coach Jack Capuano reshuffled his lines for Saturday night against the Washington Capitals. For Tavares, who has scored seven of New York’s goals and assisted on four others, it means replacing right wing PA Parenteau with Michael Grabner.
Not only did Grabner score 34 goals as a rookie last season, but he also won the fastest skater competition at All-Star Weekend in January.
The third-year center is looking forward to playing with Grabner and regular linemate Matt Moulson in the reshuffled pairings.
“I think it will be good – a little bit of a different mindset,” Tavares said Saturday morning. “As much as we’ve been getting opportunities, we haven’t been getting results. Sometimes you just need a different look, a clean slate, a different mindset to breed some confidence and excitement into everybody.”
With the Isles having been blanked in two of their last three games and scoring just seven goals during the six-game slide, Tavares said the Islanders have to look at the shuffle in a positive light.
“You have to take it that way,” he said. “We’ve been playing pretty well – although it’s easy to say you’re playing well when you’re not winning. We’ve been creating a lot of opportunities; we just haven’t been able to find the net. Hopefully some new chemistry, some new looks will bring some of the success and results we’re looking for.”
Having Grabner instead of Parenteau will mean some changes for Tavares.
“It is a little bit [different],” he said. “You have guys who do things differently and play different styles. It’s not really going to change my game, but for sure it will be a little different.
“I’m looking forward to playing with [Grabner]. It should be fun.”
There hasn’t been a lot of fun on Long Island for the past three weeks – the Isles haven’t won since beating the Rangers 4-2 on Oct. 15. Tavares said the Islanders need to go back to what they were doing in the early stages of the season, which saw them win three in a row before the current slump.
“I think sometimes when you’re trying to make the perfect play or the perfect shot, that starts putting you in trouble,” he told “You’re not going to get those opportunities every night. A lot of the goals you see on the highlights come from just putting pucks on the net and maybe you get a loose rebound or it goes off a skate and in – and that can get you going.
“Then everything comes more easily. You play more simple and you do the right thing. People say ‘you’re working too hard,’ but I feel it’s more like you’re trying to complicate things more than you should. You need to keep it simple and do the little things that will start to build your confidence and breed success.”
Posted On Saturday, 11.05.2011 / 12:13 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Caps not taking Islanders for granted

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Washington Capitals have owned the New York Islanders in recent years. They swept the season series against the Isles in 2010-11 and have 11 wins and three overtime/shootout losses in the last 14 meetings.

The Caps are also 9-2-0 and averaging four goals a game after a 5-1 win Friday at Carolina. The Islanders have gone six games without a win and are last in the NHL with just 18 goals scored.
But don't try to tell coach Bruce Boudreau or his players that tonight's visit to the Nassau Coliseum will be easy -- after all, eight of the last 14 games between the teams have gone past regulation and 11, including all four last season, were decided by one goal.

"I never take these guys lightly," Boudreau said. "They are as tough a team as we play, no matter what they've gone through. You look at their lineup and you have a hard time believing that so many good players have not got very many goals. You watch the last three games -- they worked so hard, you just know they're going to break out. You just pray it's not against you."

Forward Mike Knuble warned that the Caps can't just take the Islanders' record at face value.

"That's a trap you fall into," he said. "You look at their record and you see they haven't scored a lot of goals and it's very easy to think you're going to have another night like last night. They show up and play hard against us. They can put you on your heels very quickly.

"They'll come out buzzing -- we know that. You can talk about it and know it's going to happen, but you have to be prepared for it."

In addition to solid goaltending, scheduling and a bit of luck, Boudreau said his team's depth offensively is a major reason for the fast start.

"We've had pretty good balance, where if some guys aren't going, other guys are going,” Boudreau said. “We haven't had a game as yet where we've had 15 guys just not going. That's been a positive thing."

For the Islanders to snap their slide, they'll have to beat a goaltender who has given them fits throughout his career. Tomas Vokoun is 7-1-0 in his first season with the Caps -- and 14-5-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and four shutouts in his career against the Isles.

Here is the projected lineup for the Capitals:

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromAlexander Semin
Troy BrouwerMarcus JohanssonCody Eakin/Mathieu Perreault
Jason ChimeraBrooks LaichJoel Ward
Matt HendricksJeff HalpernMike Knuble

Roman HamrlikJohn Carlson
Jeff SchultzKarl Alzner
John ErskineDennis Wideman

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
Posted On Saturday, 11.05.2011 / 10:55 AM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

DiPietro to start again; Isles shake up lines

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Rick DiPietro will get his third straight start when the New York Islanders play host to the Washington Capitals tonight, but the cast in front of him has been rearranged. With his team mired in a six-game losing streak and stuck in an offensive slump, coach Jack Capuano has completely revamped his lines.

John Tavares, who has seven of the Isles' 18 goals, will center the top line with Matt Moulson on the right side and Michael Grabner moving up and playing on the left. Frans Nielsen, Grabner's usual center, will have PA Parenteau, Tavares' regular right wing, and Brian Rolston, who moves up from the third line, on the left.

Marty Reasoner moves from the fourth line to the third and will center Blake Comeau and Kyle Okposo -- who usually plays with Nielsen and Grabner. Josh Bailey, who hasn't had a point in 11 games this season, will center a fourth line with Jay Pandolfo and Matt Martin.

"Obviously we haven't been scoring many goals," Capuano said. "We've got to do something."

Capuano did not tell his players about the changes until this morning; Friday's practice was run using the pairings that the Isles had maintained through their first 11 games.

"It doesn't matter who you play with," he said. "You have to do the little things."

DiPietro will make his third straight start, with Al Montoya dressing as his backup. Evgeni Nabokov continues to recover from a lower-body injury; Capuano said he's close to being at full strength and will skate Sunday.

The Capitals, who come to Nassau Coliseum with a 9-2-0 record after winning 5-1 at Carolina on Saturday, probably wouldn't be Capuano's choice of opponent as his team goes for its first win in three weeks. The Caps won their first seven games, lost at Edmonton and Vancouver, then bounced back by beating Anaheim and Carolina this week. They are also 11-0-3 in their last 14 games against the Isles.

"They have some guys who are obviously very skilled. Time and space are something that we have to take away as much as we can," Capuano said when asked about slowing down an attack that includes Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. "We can't let their fourth man beat us up the ice. We have to be very disciplined in our own end."
Here is the projected lineup for the Islanders:
Michael GrabnerJohn TavaresMatt Moulson
Brian RolstonFrans NielsenPA Parenteau
Blake ComeauMarty ReasonerKyle Okposo
Matt MartinJosh BaileyJay Pandolfo

Mark StreitSteve Staios
Andrew MacDonaldTravis Hamonic
Mark EatonMilan Jurcina

Rick DiPietro
Al Montoya

Posted On Tuesday, 10.25.2011 / 8:07 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Kings give Quick the night off

The NHL's reigning Player of the Week will be wearing a baseball cap instead of a goalie's mask on Tuesday night.

Los Angeles coach Terry Murray said Jonathan Quick, who's riding a streak of three consecutive shutouts, will be the backup when the New Jersey Devils come to the Staples Center on Tuesday night.

Murray said at Tuesday's morning skate that he made the decision prior to Quick's 28-save, 1-0 victory against Dallas on Saturday night.

"He’s got to play. Quick can’t play 82 games," Murray told the media. "We’ve got 17 games here in front of us until the end of the month (of November). Fifteen are conference games. So what do you do? Am I going to wait until December, when we have five Eastern Conference games, and get him in then? He’s got to play. He’s a good goalie and he played great for us in the second half of the year last year. We’ve got a lot of big games right in front of us now, so it’s time to start putting him into some games.

"The decision was made Saturday morning. It’s not like it was after Quick’s third shutout. It was before, to give him a heads up. It was fair to give him an opportunity to think about it over the weekend, the day off on Sunday, and come in to work hard yesterday in practice. There’s no second-guessing this one for me. It’s just time for him to get playing again.”

Bernier said he's not feeling any extra pressure because of Quick's hot streak, which has seen the former UMass star keep opponents off the scoreboard for 188:10.

"First of all I was happy for him, but then I wasn’t sure if I was still going to be in net tonight,"  he told Rich Hammond of Kings Insider. "But I guess he [Murray] kept his word, and I’m happy to be back in.”

One player who won't be in the lineup is defenseman Drew Doughty, who's eligible to come off IR but isn't ready. He's been out since Oct. 15 with a shoulder injury.

Murray said Doughty was scheduled to see the doctor today and could be back by the end of the week.

“The opportunity will probably be tonight, to see the doctor at the rink," he said. "We plan on taking him with us on the road trip, kind of shooting for the end of the week here as a possibility.” The Kings hit the road after the game against the Devils -- they play at Dallas on Thursday, at Phoenix on Saturday and at Colorado on Sunday.

Posted On Monday, 10.10.2011 / 12:15 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - At the Rink blog

Montoya gets second start for Islanders

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Al Montoya will be in goal again for the New York Islanders when they host the Minnesota Wild on Monday afternoon.

Montoya, a midseason pickup in 2010-11 who played well in the final weeks of the season, allowed two goals on 29 shots in Saturday's season-opening 2-0 loss to Florida. He got the start ahead of veterans Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov in the opener and will do so again against the Wild.

"There's no statement (being made). Al got the start on Saturday and he played extremely well," coach Jack Capuano told the media before the game. "You can't win playing the way we played. We'll go with the same lineup and hope it works out. If not, there'll be changes, for sure."

Despite being out-played for most of the first two periods by the Panthers, the Isles plan no lineup changes against the Wild, who opened their season Saturday with a 4-2 victory at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 5:29 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Super Saturday

Islanders Camp: Streit survives day one

SYOSSET, N.Y.Mark Streit was sweaty but smiling.

Nearly a year after his 2010-11 season was ended before it began because of a shoulder injury sustained during an intrasquad scrimmage, Mark Streit took the ice Saturday on the opening day of New York Islanders training camp. Not even a workout that forward Matt Mouston tweeted was "hardest training camp day in my 6 years of pro.... no messing around this year," could take the smile off Streit's face.

"It was a good short-but-hard first day. Everybody's in shape, and it was a good atmosphere out there," Streit said. "I can't wait to skate tomorrow and Monday."

The Isles' No. 1 defenseman said he's been skating for "five or six weeks" before camp and said he had "the same rust" that he usually does when starting out a new season.

"I'm in good shape and great spirits," he said. "As you can imagine, I'm very excited for training camp, for the first preseason game and for the first regular-season game."

He did admit he expected to have a few butterflies when he steps on the ice for his first game – the Islanders start their preseason schedule Friday night in Boston, then host New Jersey the next night.

"For sure," he said. "It's always special to play the first preseason game, and obviously the first regular-season game. For me, it's going to be even more than that because I didn't play for so long. It was painful – it was torture not to play and help out the guys.

"I worked really hard, so I'm really, really excited finally to practice with the guys, to be in the locker room, to play in training camp and then to start the new season."
Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 4:17 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Super Saturday

Islanders Camp: Nabokov returns

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Evgeni Nabokov looked at the tumult around him in the New York Islanders locker room and smiled.

Nabokov, the winningest goaltender in the history of the San Jose Sharks, is trying to re-start his NHL career at age 36 after a season that began in the KHL and ended with him signing with Detroit, being claimed on waivers by the Islanders and opting not to report.

The Islanders retained his rights for this season. Now he's one of six goaltenders – and easily the oldest – looking for a job. It's something he hasn't had to do for more than a decade, but he said the pressure to perform is nothing new.
Posted On Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 2:30 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - Super Saturday

Islanders Camp: Tavares says its time to grow up

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- John Tavares has cast his lot with the Islanders, committing himself through the 2017-18 season after signing a six-year contract this week.

He's glad to have all the hubbub about his future out of the way.

"I'm excited about it," he said after the first day of training camp at Iceworks, "but it's kind of nice to put it all behind me and move on, get ready for the season. It was an emotional week; there was a lot going on. It's nice to kind of catch up on some rest and get ready for the season."

After four years of missing the playoffs, he also feels it's time for one of the NHL's youngest teams to start turning talent and promise into results.

"We have to approach it that way," he said when asked about the importance of moving ahead after back-to-back 13th-place finishes in the East. "There's only so long when you can gain experience and go things and feel like you can make mistakes and learn from them.

"Obviously it's still going to happen -- we're still growing in a lot of ways. But it's time to move on and really use training camp to get us ready for the season. We need to be more consistent and put it together for 82 games."
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