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Game Preview: Islanders at Sharks

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders
Looking to reverse his club’s fortunes on its current two-game losing streak, Head Coach Jack Capuano is expected to shuffle the deck with his forward lines tonight when the Islanders face the San Jose Sharks.

One forward line is expected to remain intact, however, as Mikhail Grabovski, Frans Nielsen and Nikolay Kulemin were the only three-of-a-kind left on the table at Friday’s practice in San Jose.

“It’s our most balanced line right now,” Capuano said. “It would be easy to put Kulemin back up with John [Tavares], but we don’t want to break that up. They’re going real good, playing a 200-foot game. Both offensively and defensively, they are playing solid.”

The line was put together last Saturday and had immediate chemistry, combining for four goals and four assists in the 7-5 win over the Dallas Stars. While the Islanders as a whole played a game to forget against the Colorado Avalanche, the trio was only on the ice for one goal against and generated six shots. The line also played together on Thursday, but was broken up after Kulemin was given a game misconduct in the second period.

Grabovski, who has three points in three games on the line, said he and Nielsen play a similar game, a puck-possession driven, European style of hockey.

“Frans plays my style of hockey,” Grabovski said. “He likes to control the puck a lot and can skate everywhere and help change positions. It feels pretty good to play like ‘European hockey’. That’s why it may be pretty easy for me to play with him.”

Nielsen has emerged as a scoring threat for the Islanders, as evidenced by his first career hat trick this season and 25-goal campaign last year, but he’s still renowned defensively, allowing Grabovski the freedom to skate the puck and be creative in the offensive end.

“We’re on the same page with the way we want to play,” Nielsen said. “We want to hold onto the puck and keep possession and be really sound defensively when we don’t have it. We move the puck as fast as possible when we win possession in the defensive end.”

Kulemin compliments both players with his size, physicality and tenacity on the ice. His chemistry and track record with Grabovski is long documented and was one of the reasons the Islanders signed him, but he fits in with the Danish center as well.

“Kulemin probably plays a simpler game than Mikhail does,” Nielsen said. “But he’s big and really strong on the walls. In our own end, he doesn’t lose wall battles. He gets the puck out or will find someone who is open. He competes really hard.”

The most noteworthy on-ice adjustment came on the Islanders top line, as Brock Nelson was slotted next to John Tavares on the left wing. Nelson (6G, 6A) is tied with Tavares (4G, 8A) for the team scoring lead with 12 points, giving the line some more offensive punch. Nelson already plays with Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the Islanders top power-play unit, which should ease the transition for the natural center.

“But it’s tough to take one of the premier two-way centermen out of the middle,” Capuano said of Nelson. “We’re going to see what Ryan Strome can do back in the middle.”

The Islanders will test out their new look tonight against the San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m. at SAP Center.

New York Islanders
6-4-0 (12 points – T-2nd in Metropolitan Division, T-4th in Eastern Conference)
3-2-0 road
San Jose Sharks
6-4-2 (14 points - T-2nd in Pacific Division, T-3rd in Western Conference)
1-2-0 home
10:30  p.m.
SAP Center
San Jose, CA

Play-by-play: Howie
; Color: Butch Goring
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Radio: WRHU 88.7 FM, LI News Radio 103.9 FM
Play-by-play: Chris King; Color: Greg Picker
Islanders News:
- Rules of the Road: Josh Bailey
Islanders player to watch
Ryan Strome - Forward

Ryan Strome’s returns to his natural position tonight, as the center-turned-winger heads back to the middle of the ice. Moving to the wing hasn’t hurt Strome’s production, as he has seven assists in 10 games this season along with a plus-four rating. If the lines from Friday’s practice hold up, Strome will center a line with Anders Lee and Matt Martin.
Sharks player to watch
Brent Burns - Defenseman

After a one-year stint at forward, Brent Burns is back on the Sharks blue line, but his production hasn’t slowed down. The Barrie, ON, native is the Sharks leading scorer with 13 points (4G, 9A) in 12 games this season. Burns is red-hot, riding a six-game point streak (3G, 3A) and he has recorded a point in 11 of the Sharks 12 games this season. 
New York Islanders previous game lines
89 Cory Conacher 91 John Tavares 21 Kyle Okposo
27 Anders Lee 
29 Brock Nelson18 Ryan Strome
84 Mikhail Grabovski51 Frans Nielsen86 Nikolay Kulemin
17 Matt Martin – 53 Casey Cizikas – 15 Cal Clutterbuck


2 Nick Leddy 55 Johnny Boychuk
14 Thomas Hickey
11 Lubomir Visnovsky
44 Calvin de Haan 37 Brian Strait

41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Chad Johnson
San Jose Sharks previous game lines
48 Tomas Hertl - 19 Joe Thornton - 8 Joe Pavelski
12 Patrick Marleau - 39 Logan Couture - 57 Tommy Wingels
83 Matthew Nieto - 50 Chris Tierney - 15 James Sheppard
10 Andrew Desjardins - 37 Adam Burish - 89 Barclay Goodrow

44 Marc-Edouard Vlasic - 61 Justin Braun
41 Mirco Mueller - 88 Brent Burns
27 Scott Hannan - 5 Jason Demers

31 Antti Niemi
32 Alex Stalock

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