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GAME PREVIEW: ISLANDERS AT PANTHERS

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Update: Goaltender Rick DiPietro will get the start in net for the Islanders and forward Josh Bailey will not be playing in the game tonight (Saturday) versus the Florida Panthers.


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After three straight wins on the road, the Islanders have found themselves perched atop the Eastern Conference. While it’s still early in the season, ranking that high after facing teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, makes that statistic even more enjoyable for the Islanders young roster.

Saturday night, the Islanders will play in their sixth game of a set that will see them play 12 of 15 on the road. And while the team has had recent success, the Islanders will be entering the Bank Atlantic Center having lost their last five games on the Panthers home ice.  Their last road win against Florida was on October 28, 2006.

Despite injuries that have kept many of the team’s top players sidelined, the Islanders young squad is definitely feeling the buzz around the team. Inside the locker room, everyone feels that the Islanders time is now.

“Well, I think everyone is buying in to what we’re trying to do every night,” said Islanders forward Blake Comeau. “We’re getting contributions from a lot of guys. One night (Milan) Jurcina scored two goals, (Matt) Moulson obviously last (Thursday) night (scored the game-winning goal in overtime) and Johnny (John Tavares) the other night in overtime (scored his first career NHL game-winning goal).”

Moulson’s overtime goal gave the Islanders their third straight win and their first win at the St. Pete Times Forum since October 2008.

“I think even with guys injured, it seems like we have such a deep lineup that other guys can step in and our goaltending has been great, which has been huge for us,” Comeau said.

But what became the icing on the cake was that nearly each of the players and coaches had their father or mentor with them on the trip to share the experience.

“I think it’s always a great weekend and obviously it’s a lot more enjoyable when you win,” said Islanders captain Doug Weight. “We saw after Tampa Bay, the dads were in the locker room and Garth (Snow) always makes it a loose environment anyways, but he lets these guys roam around the room after the game.”

“And after a big win it was a great atmosphere on the bus and the plane,” Weight continued. “Hopefully we can have another win (on Saturday) when we play the (Florida) Panthers to make the trip home all the more enjoyable.”

Before they make it back to Long Island for their fourth home game of the season, Islanders rookie forward Nino Niederreiter, will have the opportunity to play in Montreal for his ninth NHL game after being drafted fifth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft and signing a three-year entry-level contract September 21.

Nino Niederreiter #25 of the New York Islanders skates during warm up prior to game action against Doug Weight October 18, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
But the 18-year-old native of Chur, Switzerland knows that he can’t question his abilities and instead go out and play his game, leaving the decision of if he stays with the Islanders up to the Hockey Operations department. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are allowed to give their rookies playing time in the first nine games of the NHL season before deciding whether or not they want to commit to keeping the player with the big club or sending him back to his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.

“I’m feeling actually really good, pretty comfortable, but at the end I’m still here on a tryout,” Niederreiter said. “I’m getting a little bit nervous and I’m actually ready to get to the moment when I find out if I’ll be sent back (to Portland) or whatever (if I’ll stay here).”

In his first seven appearances, the youngest Islanders player in the history of the franchise to score a goal at just 18 years and 35 days, has tallied one goal and one assist for two points while playing on the same line as Islanders captain Doug Weight and rookie Michael Grabner.

“I’m just trying to play my best every shift. I think I’m getting better and better every game, but the ninth game is coming up soon, so we’ll see what’s going to happen,” said the rookie.

Injury Update
Thursday night, Islanders forward Blake Comeau skated into the Lightning zone but was tripped on the play and slid into Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis, knocking the goal off its hinges. On the play, Comeau suffered from a charlie horse.

“I stepped on (the ice in overtime), but it was a pretty bad charlie horse, so it started to tighten up on me when I tried to give it a go,” Comeau said. “I really couldn’t get any push off so I’ve just been working on it here today and hopefully I’ll be ready to play tomorrow (Saturday).”

Islanders forward Andrew MacDonald took a shot to the hand during Thursday night’s game as well, which the team would later release that the young defenseman went through a successful surgery Friday morning and would be out of the lineup 4-6 weeks.

Josh Bailey has quickly made his way to the top of the team’s scoring charts, tallying three goals and three assists in the first five games of the season. He suffered a hip pointer injury which caused him to watch the Islanders overtime victory over Tampa Bay in the press box.  

While it hasn’t been confirmed, Bailey is expected to play against the Panthers on Saturday night.
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