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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Canucks

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Tuesday Night the Islanders will play their first home-game of 2011 when they host the red hot Vancouver Canucks at the Coliseum. While the Islanders have returned home from a successful road trip, winning 3 of 5 in their longest time away from Long Island this season, the Canucks, through 41 games, are 27-8-6 with 60 points and sit atop the Western Conference standings.


After their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, the Isles young team is looking to start a new winning record at home. Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said the loss had a lot to do with their offensive play.

“The turning point was the offensive zone play that Chicago had,” Capuano said. “They use the goal line. They use the back of the net. Their defensemen had 13 shots in that game. When you play a good team and they have as much puck possession as they had in the offensive zone, it made it real tough for us to get anything going offensively.”

The Canucks are coming off of a shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings, so they’ll be looking to make a tear on the east coast. They set out to play the Islanders on Tuesday before playing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Friday, before returning to the west for two more road games.

Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks and PA Parenteau #15 of the New York Islanders battle for the puck behind the Blackhawk net at the United Center on January 9, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
But the Islanders are on a tear of their own – fighting their way past stereotypes about the rebuilding process by showing teams like the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins that they’re not a team to neglect. The game is still a battle and the Islanders want to show that they are contenders.

“Their success has to do with a combination of things, but I think now it’s within that room,” Capuano said. “It’s the belief that they have that we’re down 2-0 in Colorado and came back. We beat some good hockey teams. So I think it’s a credit to those guys and how they’re playing. I can see it on the bench too. Guys are getting a little antsy with each other now, which is a good thing because they’re holding themselves accountable.”

Islanders sophomore John Tavares has stepped up to the plate. He leads the team with 28 points and he’s scored overtime goals in three contests. If he gets one more this season, he’ll tie an NHL best four overtime goals.

But Tavares isn’t the only player on the Islanders top line that has been performing well. Matt Moulson is tied with the centerman for a team best 14 goals and PA Parenteau has a team best 15 assists. Parenteau and Blake Comeau are tied for second with 24 points and Moulson has 22 points.

“Those three guys have had some great chemistry,” Capuano said. “PA (Parenteau) is a playmaker on that line. Matty (Moulson) and Johnny (Tavares) have played together for a while now so they play together pretty well. (Sunday night) was the first game that they didn’t get much going, but over the past couple weeks they’ve really been one of our top lines and doing a lot of good things. I’m really happy with the way that line has progressed.”

Tuesday’s matchup will feature a clash between special teams. Although the Canucks have the leagues best road power play with a 29.1 percent ranking, prior to Sunday night’s contest against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Islanders held their opponents without a power play since Dec. 27 against the New York Rangers.

The Islanders will need to find the high powered power play they had a few games ago. The Canucks rank sixth place in the league’s penalty kill standings with 84.3 percent, while the Islanders home power play ranks 28th in the league with 15.0 percent.

“The penalty kill and special teams really, our system coach has done a great job. It’s attention to detail and focus," Capuano said. "That’s the biggest thing, to make sure that we understand what the opponent’s tendencies are. But at the same time with the PK, understanding that it’s stops, it’s starts, it’s shooting lanes, it’s quick changes, getting the puck 200 feet when we have the chance to and winning some key faceoffs in the defensive zone. It’s just a matter of them believing and their attention to detail.”

Much of the Canuck’s success is due to their veteran presence. Twin brothers, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, are tied for a team leading 54 points, and are tied for 3rd place among the NHL’s individual scoring leaders. They are 14 points above Ryan Kessler, who has scored eight power play goals this season. But it’s Daniel Sedin who holds the team lead in power play goals with 11 and was awarded the NHL’s first star for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 9.

Ryan Wilson #44 of the Colorado Avalanche tries to knock the puck away from Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders at the Pepsi Center on January 8, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
“Just watching them play in the pre-scout, they are a team that play real well down low, especially the two Sedin brothers," Capuano said. "They seem to find one another wherever they are on the ice. This is going to be a big challenge and a good test for our hockey team with an older bunch that they have. They’re solid back on the blueline and in net as well.”

The matchup is very much a battle between veteran leadership and young talent, which couldn’t be more evidenced than by the look between the pipes.

The Islanders will be dressing two rookie goaltenders, Kevin Poulin and Nathan Lawson, that have only played a combined five NHL games and have recorded just one win. Lawson was in goal for the Islanders 5-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, so it stands to reason that Poulin will probably get the nod on Tuesday night. In two games, he has recorded a 1.53 goals against average and .946 save percentage.

After the Colorado game where they got two quick goals... but he battled back for us and played extremely well. He’s a guy that wants to be in the net and wants to excel at this level. - Jack Capuano
“He’s a guy that, when people ask, he’s a competitive kid," Capuano said. "He wants to be that guy. He wants to be in the net all the time. He’s the last line of defense, but after the Colorado game where they got two quick goals, he had no control over those two goals, but he battled back for us and played extremely well. He’s a guy that wants to be in the net and wants to excel at this level.”

The look at the other end of the ice is much different. Canucks goaltender Robert Luongo was drafted by the Islanders in the first round, fourth overall, of the 1997 Entry Draft and is now in his 11th NHL season. He's having another solid season with a .921 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average. His backup, Corey Schneider, has a .925 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average. In his third season, Schneider has played 22 career games, 12 this season, and is on his way to 10 straight unbeaten games – where he will tie the franchise record.

While the teams couldn’t be coming from two more different places, Tuesday night’s matchup will be one to watch.

In spite of the Canucks winning record, the Islanders have earned points in the last three matchups between the clubs, having won both contests in the last two seasons – one at home and one on the road – while they fell to the Canucks in the shootout in 2007-08.

“We have to get back home now,” Capuano said. “We had the day off (Monday), so hopefully tomorrow we’ll be ready to go. We have to do a little bit better with things on our end to have some success.”
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