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Game Preview: Islanders @ Avalanche

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
In the last three weeks, the New York Islanders have been hot offensively. Having posted a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games, the Islanders will be looking for another win when they face the Colorado Avalanche in a 3:00 p.m. ET matinee at Pepsi Center on Saturday.

This matchup will be a test for Islanders young goaltenders.

Goaltender Rick DiPietro was sent home to Long Island on Friday afternoon to be evaluated by team doctors; he suffered a groin injury in the Isles 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday. Nathan Lawson, who relieved DiPietro with 34:20 left in regulation, made 28 saves to solidify the Isles victory.

But Thursday night’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers took a turn for the dramatic. Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano made the decision to pull Lawson, 27, after letting up two goals only 5:17 into the opening faceoff. This gave 20-year-old Kevin Poulin his NHL debut, in which he didn’t let up a goal and made 19 saves.

Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders makes a save off an attempt from Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on January 6, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The two Islanders goaltenders combine for just three NHL games played - and Poulin hasn’t even had his first start. But that’s all going to change on Saturday. Capuano told the media that Poulin would start between the pipes when the Islanders take on the Avalanche on Saturday afternoon.

"He's (Poulin) ready to go," Capuano said. "He's a competitor, he loves the atmosphere. He'll be in there, and if he wasn't playing he'd be griping a little bit. He's the kind of guy that wants the action, he wants to be the guy. It's unfortunate - Ricky's situation - but he's (Poulin) going to get the opportunity that he wants."

This time, Poulin will no what to expect from NHL players.

“They’re a lot quicker (in the NHL) and I think it’s the quick release that is the main aspect of the game that is harder to read,” Poulin said. “In my first game I saw a little bit how they play, how to react. It’s a team game. Every one has to be at 100 percent to have the best chance to win.”

And while Colorado is 1-5-2 in their last eight games, they aren’t a team to underestimate. After playing 41 games this season, they have posted a 21-15-5 record for 47 points, ranking them sixth overall in the Western Conference. Players such as Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles have been major offensive forces, as each has recorded more than 30 points this season.

“It’s good for the league to have some young guys like that; (Paul) Stastny and Matt (Duchene), Kyle Quincey,” Islanders forward Rob Schremp said. “It’s good to see young talent can emerge and be stars in this league at such a young age.”

An important aspect of the Islanders recent victories over the Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings were the Islanders performance on special teams, as they scored on all four power play opportunities (two in each game).

But Thursday night’s matchup with the Oilers was the fewest goals the Islanders have scored, dating back to December 13 when they were shutout by the Nashville Predators. Although, the Islanders loss to the Oilers could be chalked up to seven failed power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 in the third period, and allowing one shorthanded goal.

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders is stopped by Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on January 6, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
“We had our looks,” Schremp said. “They did a good job making saves. I don’t think anything has changed. We had a lot of threats, what should have been goals, Dubnyk made some great saves on them. When you’re making plays like that, you just stick to it. You’re going to have games when you don’t score and then maybe the next night three or four of them go in. It’s not going to change. We’re still confident.”

If the Islanders can perform at the same level as those matchups with the Flames and Red Wings, dominating the Avalanche should not be an issue. The Avs home penalty kill is ranked last in the league with 72.2. But the Isles can’t underestimate their power on special teams; the Avs could still be devastating as their road penalty kill is ranked fifth in the league with 86.1.

One thing the Isles look to change is their net presence on the power play.

“There wasn’t a lot of net presence (in Thursday’s game), especially on the 5-on-3, we didn’t take his (Dubnyk’s) eyes away from him at all,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “Even though we had our chances, going back and looking at the tape, we never took his eyes away.”

Colorado also has a highly ranked power play (eighth in league), so the Islanders will need to do well on the penalty kill if they hope to succeed.

“They’ve got a good team,” Capuano said. “They’ve got a fast team. They’ve got some defensemen that have a good transition game and they join the rush pretty well. We’ve just got to make sure we play 60 minutes. When we play 60 minutes, we give ourselves a chance, but we can’t play 55 or 58 because five seconds can cost you the game.”

The goaltenders aren’t the Islanders only call up. Jeremy Colliton was recalled early Friday afternoon because Frans Nielsen, who’s out with a groin injury, is questionable for Saturday’s game.

“He’s going to be a key faceoff guy for us,” Capuano said. “He’s got good size at 6’2” 210-pounds. He’s a guy that can play a 200 foot game. He’s really good and reliable in his own end defensively. He’s an experienced guy now at 25. He’s a big body and he skates well.”
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