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Game Preview: Islanders @ Hurricanes

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
As the New York Islanders head onto the road for a five-day road trip - passing through the warm weather of North Carolina before moving on to the Sunshine State - they're hoping the beautiful weather helps to inspire a new point streak. The Islanders young team knows playoffs are a long shot, but the team's goal is still to finish the season strong.

"This is a big trip for us," Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. "We had a tough loss last game, so we're looking to bounce back on this road trip and still get as many wins as we can until the end of the season. No one has quit in this room. A lot of guys are playing for different things, but we're going to play hard right until the end."

The first part of their three-game road trip will be busy. They'll play two-games in two nights, with the first game against the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center.

The Canes are guaranteed to come out of the gates feisty as they try to keep their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes alive. They've gone 1-4-1 in their last six games, sliding into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fall, they're just two points behind Buffalo (in 8th) and four points behind the Rangers (in 7th) in the Eastern Conference.

The Hurricanes are also looking to increase their offensive output. While putting up 179 shots in their last five games, they have only been able to convert on seven of those chances.

Frans Nielsen #51 of the New York Islanders and David Clarkson #23 of the New Jersey Devils battle for a loose puck during the game at the Prudential Center on March 12, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils won 3-2. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
"It's going to be a dog fight," Moulson said. "Obviously they're trying to establish themselves in the playoffs this year and it's a tight race. So we know it's going to be a hard game. We're prepared for that."

In Moulson's talk of preparation, he was referring to his knowledge of Carolina's system.

"They play a pretty up-tempo game," Moulson said. "They have some really skilled forwards and the defensemen get the puck up to them well. They go on the attack. At least when we played them, they were a pretty good attack team."

Moulson added, "(Canes captain Eric) Staal is one of the best players in the league. He gets a lot of chances. So we have to make sure we're not turning the puck over and letting them transition on us."

Capuano also knows what the team is up against as he watched the Canes most recent game, a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a result, he's made sure to address certain game situations with his team in order to prepare them for the game.

"Carolina played extremely well (against Toronto) and probably should have won that game," Capuano said. "(Leafs goaltender James) Reimer made some great saves in the first period, and they had a lot of chances with 32-plus shots. So they're going to be coming hard."

Capuano continued, "(Carolina) had a day off (yesterday), so I'm sure they're going to be well rested. We'll have to be at our best, but for us, special teams will be key."

The Isles coach was referring to special teams because that was their downfall at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Up to that point, the Islanders had put together a seven-game point streak, which came to an unfortunate end with a loss to the Rangers, who put a deafening spin on the Islanders penalty kill.

Frans Nielsen, one of the Islanders prominent penalty killers, knows the importance of a good kill. He said, "I think we had some chances in the first period, but we didn't play well in our own end. Then we came out and played very good to start the second period. We scored two goals, had a lot of chances to try and get ahead, but we ran into those penalties and that really killed us."

Nielsen added, "Penalties are part of the game. We just have to do a better job killing them. The Rangers went three-for-four in the first two periods. So that's not good enough."

Getting into the same kind of penalty trouble could cost the Islanders. Carolina has a lot of firepower, both up front and on the blue line.

"We have to make sure we acknowledge our attention to detail in our meetings and we understand what we need to do to diffuse some of their strengths on their power play," Capuano said. "It is pretty good and they've got some shooters. Obviously, when you've got (Eric) Staal, he's a very dangerous player. That will be a factor."

Making sure they diminish the amount of penalties they take will be important, but the Islanders also need to establish high numbers in shots on goal.

Members of the he New York Rangers surround Jack Hillen #38 of the New York Islanders in the third period on March 15, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
"Obviously we have to get to Cam Ward. He's a great goalie," Capuano said.

While Ward is almost guaranteed to be in net for the Hurricanes, the Islanders net-minder is slightly less obvious. Rick DiPietro has been cleared for game action and will probably get the start on Friday night, but with Al Montoya's numbers, he could also get the nod.

"Both goalies have been sharp here," Capuano said. "Ricky (DiPietro) has had a good week at practice, so we're just going to play it by ear."

Despite who starts in net, the other goaltender will likely start Saturday.

With back-to-back games and the travel, you always could lean that way (towards having each goalie play one game), but we're going to have to wait and see how the first night goes before we determine that," Capuano said.

The Islanders posted three out of four points in their last set of back-to-backs, but this time they'll be looking to earn all four.

"I think we were playing well during that seven-game stretch," Moulson said. "We were playing hard, staying within our system and sticking to our game plan. So we're going to try to get back to that."
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