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Game Preview: Islanders @ Oilers

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The New York Islanders look to extend their three-game win streak when they take on the skidding Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Thursday night. In the midst of their longest road trip of the season, the game will be the Islanders third of five games against Western Conference foes.

“I think we’ve taken the game to overtime and the shootout against some of the best teams in the league so far,” Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. “I think we got that confidence back that we had at the start of the year and hopefully we can keep this ball rolling.”

The Islanders top line has really started to click. Moulson, John Tavares and PA Parenteau will look to continue their streaking power play as they’ve been 100 percent in that category, scoring on all four attempts in their last two games. As a result, the Islanders road power play is tied for 8th in league rankings with a 20.3 percent success rate. Edmonton’s penalty kill is worst in the league as they have only successfully killed off the penalties 73.7 percent of the time.

PA Parenteau #15 of the New York Islanders celebrates his game winning goal in overtime with teammate Andrew MacDonald #47 during an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on December 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. New York beats Detroit 4-3 (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
“Special teams is all about chemistry and I think we have really good chemistry right now on our power play,” Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We’re taking pucks to the net, we’re shooting and we have net front presence. You’re going to score goals when you do that.”
Including the four power play goals, the Isles top line has put together seven goals in those two games. All three forwards scored a goal in the Islanders win over the Detroit Red Wings on New Years Eve, while Tavares and Moulson each scored two goals in the Islanders most recent win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night with Parenteau recording two assists. With those points, Tavares now leads the Islanders in scoring with 27 points.

“I think we’ve been getting more pucks to the net and have been taking a lot more shots,” Moulson said. “We’ve been a lot more intense in the zone, getting the puck back and get possession of it, so I think it’s just a combination of those things. Those are two huge things that make a successful power play – puck retrieval and shots – and we’re doing a good job at that right now.”

The Islanders veteran presence has been felt. Milan Jurcina and Mark Eaton have gained increased time on ice. They’ve also been an extremely important part of shutting down the opposition’s power play, who’ve received 10 opportunities and have been unsuccessful in the last three games. Eaton has blocked a team leading 14 shots, while Jurcina has blocked 10.

Unfortunately for the Islanders, Eaton was hurt in Monday night’s matchup and may sit out of the game on Thursday night. If that’s the case, it will be important for MacDonald and Travis Hamonic, as well as the rest of the Islanders defensive core, to step up and fill that void.

“He’s a huge part of our defense,” MacDonald said. “He plays 20 plus minutes a game against top lines. He’s a steady veteran presence back there. He’s definitely going to be missed. It’s up to the rest of us to pick up the slack.”

Rookie goaltender Nathan Lawson will likely get the start on Thursday night as Rick DiPietro was injured in the Islanders most recent win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. Stepping in for DiPietro with 34:20 remaining in regulation, Lawson recorded 28 saves to give DiPietro the 5-2 win. For precautionary reasons, Bridgeport Sound Tigers goaltender Kevin Poulin was recalled to backup Lawson in the event that DiPietro will be unable to dress.

Todd Bertuzzi #44 of the Detroit Red Wings turns in front of Milan Jurcina #27 of the New York Islanders during an NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on December 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Islanders won in OT 4-3 (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
“The organization and the whole team has faith in Lawson,” MacDonald said. “He wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case. I’ve played with him the last two years and I personally know what he’s capable of. He handles his own and he showed last game that he’s fully capable of handling a job like that.”

The Oilers, on a seven game winless streak, have not won a game since they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 16. As a result, they’ve recorded a Western Conference low 31 points this season. Ryan Whitney is on fire for the Oilers. As a defensemen, he leads the entire team with 27 points (2 goals, 25 assists) and has a team-leading +13 plus/minus ranking. Only three other skaters have a positive plus/minus.

But it’s Edmonton’s rookies that are setting the stage for the future of the organization. Jordan Eberle, who was drafted 22nd overall in the 2008 Entry Draft, and Taylor Hall, who was selected first overall in the 2010 Entry Draft, are high up on the rookie scoring charts. Eberle is tied for third amongst the league’s rookies with 23 points and Hall is tied for fifth with 22 points.

They might be at the bottom of the Western Conference, but Moulson said the team doesn’t plan to change their game plan.

“We don't underestimate any team,” Moulson said. “(Edmonton) has a lot of good players, a lot of pretty gifted offensive players. I don’t think we’re going to underestimate them at all. We’ve got our game plan and we’re going to execute it.”

Notes: Islanders forwards Blake Comeau (neck spasms) and Frans Nielsen (groin) as well as defenseman Mark Eaton (hip) are questionable for Thursday night’s game. Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro (adductor strain) did not practice on Wednesday.
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