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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Capitals

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders will face the Washington Capitals for the second time this season. In their first meeting, the Capitals stole a 2-1 win after prospect Nino Niederreiter scored his first NHL goal during the first period to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.

Even though this will be the second meeting, it will seem like the first. Due to injuries, the Islanders have a very different roster than they did at the start of the season and eight players that were major contributors in the first game, will not be in the lineup.

“It was a different team when they held them to those two goals," Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. "But at the same time, they have some high powered offense and they also have a different lineup than they were then too. So we just have to be on top of our game a little bit better. I thought (our game against) New Jersey, we were just casual in certain areas of our game and that has to pick up a little bit.”

The Isles have one of the highest man games lost totals in the league, fans attending the game will witness the long-awaited return of Kyle Okposo, who will play in his first game this season after undergoing shoulder surgery during the preseason.

“Obviously he’s been practicing and he works hard, but for a guy that’s been out there for that long, just to see a smile on his face and him being around the guys is the important thing right now,” Capuano said.

Easing Okposo back into the game will be important.

“We have to control his minutes,” Capuano said. “But we would not play him unless we thought he was ready to go. He’s been skating very hard with the coaches that have been working him out. We’ll have to see how the game goes, but I’m sure he’ll see some power play time.”

The Capitals roster remains intact and their major players remain offensive threats. Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the Capitals game-tying goal on Oct. 13, leads the team in points (46). And Nicklas Backstrom, who was credited with the game-winning goal after the puck deflected off his toe, is a close second (42 points).

The Capitals top lines may have more points than the Islanders top scoring lines, but the Isles have been more potent in recent weeks. Since the New Year, the Islanders and Capitals have posted very similar records, as both teams have only recorded three wins.

The Capitals have had to depend on players, other than Ovechkin, to produce points. Ovechkin has only scored two goals and two assists in the month of January, while Islanders sophomore John Tavares has scored seven goals and has had two assists. Those points (33 total) put Tavares on pace to score more points than he did in his rookie season, defying the notion of a sophomore slump.

PA Parenteau #15 of the New York Islanders skates during an NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Nassau Coliseum on January 11, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
A lot of Tavares’ success has been to the playmaking abilities of his linemate and Islanders winger PA Parenteau, who has recorded two goals and three assists this month.

“He’s skating,” Capuano said. “We know that he has the skill, the hockey sense and the vision, but the one thing I like about his game right now is that he’s competing hard and he’s skating. When you skate, you can control the play and you’re going to create offense. We moved PA around (in the game against New Jersey) and no matter who we put him with, even the goal that was called back with (Michael) Grabner. Obviously he’s doing something right with his game right now and to me, it’s skating.”

Goaltender Rick DiPietro did not participate in practice on Wednesday morning, as he was feeling ill. If he is feeling healthy, it is most likely that he will play Thursday. In his most recent start on January 15, the goaltender made 40 saves for the win, a feat he’s accomplished for just the ninth time in his career. In his last four starts, the veteran goaltender has recorded wins, posting a 1.99 goals against average and a .945 save percentage.

“When Ricky is going and in the week of practice that he had, he looked really good, but it all depends on how he feels,” Capuano said after addressing that DiPietro missed practice due to illness.
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