A series of games in January saw the New York Islanders faceoff against the Buffalo Sabres three times in a nine-day span, posting a 2-1-0 record in that time. Now, just three weeks later, the Islanders will complete their fourth and final game against the club this season with a game at HSBC Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Buffalo will definitely come out hard. They’re currently ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference and are only three points behind Atlanta (ranked 8th) in the standings. Hence, the Sabres are fighting for every point to earn that eighth playoff seed.
“Buffalo has been playing well so it’s going to be a tough game,” Islanders forward Frans Nielsen
said. “But we’ve been playing well too. We talked about really coming together as a group (on Friday) and we have to keep going. If we don’t come out playing a solid game and working hard (on Sunday), then (Friday night’s) game doesn’t mean much. So we have to be ready.”
After back-to-back wins, a slow start wouldn’t normally be in the cards for the Islanders next game. But when 364 penalty minutes are doled out in a single game, it’s safe to say players are a little bumped and bruised while the emotions on the bench were soaring.
|John Tavares #91 and Matt Moulson #26 of the New York Islanders skate against Zbynek Michalek #4 and Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) |
“The players play the game and emotions run high,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “It was just a situation where they played hard. You can look at it from all different angles, but there are two teams on the ice… It was a physical game on both parties.”
As a result, Capuano said he hopes there will not be an emotional let down when the puck drops on Sunday.
“As a coach, that’s one thing that you worry about,” Capuano said. “We battled so hard in this game (against Pittsburgh) and how are we going to come out against Buffalo? But we have to make sure that we’re prepared and we’re focused. We have to put this game behind us. It was 60 minutes of hockey and we move to the next one.”
Starts haven’t always been the Islanders strong point. Especially since the Islanders had a slow start against Buffalo on Jan. 23 and the Sabres scored a goal 15 seconds after the opening faceoff, going on to win 5-3.
“The last couple games, we’ve played a solid game,” Islanders forward Michael Grabner
said. “We came out strong and we have to keep going. Obviously the starts were hurting us before that, so we just have to keep focused and be sharp the first 5-10 minutes.”
Capuano clearly hopes the team is ready to play right from the start and shows the same intensity, which helped them earn four goals in the first 20 minutes of play on Friday night. But with suspensions on the horizon, the lineup will likely look different and that’s a hindrance they’ll have to overcome.
“I think Garth (Snow) is going through the due diligence of what he has to go through with the league, but I suspect our lineup will most-likely have some changes in it,” Capuano said.
One position will likely remain constant. In consecutive starts, Mikko Koskinen
made a total of 72 saves (with an additional 4 in the shootout) to give the Islanders wins over the Montreal Canadiens (4-3 in the shootout) and Pittsburgh Penguins (9-3). Those starts are the first time an Islanders rookie goaltender played a set of back-to-back games since Rick DiPietro
did so on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, 2001.
“He’s been great,” Isles center John Tavares
said after Friday night’s game. “He’s had some games to prepare himself. I’m sure he’s feeling a lot better now than the way he was thrown in there against Toronto. You can see that he’s got so much potential.”
Isles goaltender Al Montoya
is ready to play when he gets the nod, but Capuano may decide to play Koskinen in his fourth-straight game since he’s been playing so well.
|Mikko Koskinen #1 of the New York Islanders makes a glove save in the second period as teammate Jack Hillen #38 and Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) |
nd Koskinen isn’t the only Islanders rookie on a tear. Michael Grabner
scored two goals in the Islanders win over the Penguins and now lies second on the NHL’s rookie goal scoring leaders chart.
“I’m not trying to think about it at all. I’m trying to play my role here and help the team,” Grabner said. “Obviously I’m having a nice little run here and I hope that I can keep it going here with the same kind of pace. But really, I’m just trying to help out the team.”
While that’s impressive, Grabner also leads the entire NHL in goals scored this past month (beginning on Jan. 15) as he’s tallied 12 goals in the last 13 games.
“If he continues like this, for sure (he’ll be in the running for the Calder Trophy),” Grabner’s linemate Frans Nielsen
said. “It’s a great story. It’s a pretty great pick-up by Garth (Snow). Nobody really knew him when he got in here, but he’s really showed what a great hockey player he is. It’s not only about his speed. He has a good shot and he can pass the puck. He’s a smart player. He plays the PK, he sees the game well and he’s a very good overall player.”
Grabner’s 21 goals this season ties Matt Moulson
, who also scored two goals Friday night, for the team lead. John Tavares
also recorded his 20th goal of the season.
“Not every guy scores 20 (goals) in the NHL so it’s a nice thing to have, but at the same sense, there are still 27 games to go and hopefully I can get a few more to help the team,” Grabner said.
Watching who was on the ice at the Islanders practice on Saturday morning, it was pretty telling about the activities in Friday night's game. For the most part, the Isles top two lines took the morning off, while it looked like the players that were ejected from the game were required to skate.
Players at the skate include forwards Frans Nielsen
, Matt Martin
, Josh Bailey
, Jesse Joensuu
, Michael Haley and Trevor Gillies
; defensemen Ty Wishart
, Travis Hamonic
, Bruno Gervais, Milan Jurcina
, Radek Martinek and Jack Hillen. Mikko Koskinen
, Al Montoya
and Nathan Lawson also participated in practice, but Koskinen tended his own net while Montoya and Lawson shared. Skaters who did not practice include Matt Moulson
, John Tavares
, PA Parenteau
, Michael Grabner
, Kyle Okposo
and Andrew MacDonald