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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Capitals

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
On Saturday night at the Coliseum, the New York Islanders will look to close out their most successful month of the season when they take on the Washington Capitals in the front end of a home-and-home at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are 8-4-1 this month and getting there was a team effort.

“We’ve just really come together," Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said about the team's success. "We're sticking up for one another and we're doing the little things right. We're getting pucks out of the defensive zone and we're getting pucks in the net most of the time. We're playing well in the offensive zone and we're playing responsible defensively as well."

This month hasn’t been all wins all the time. Tuesday night, the team had trouble getting their feet moving and lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs and then Thursday night the team did what they needed to do to tie the score and bring the game to overtime, but lost a hard fought battle in Philadelphia.

Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders looks to pass the puck as Carl Gunnarsson #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends February 22, 2011 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
“We showed a lot of heart and a lot of character coming back like that,” Okposo said. “Matt Martin scored two huge goals for us and Al (Montoya) kept us in the game. When we weren’t playing that well in the first period, he made a lot of big saves and it’s always good when you can get a point after being down two goals to arguably the best team in the league. That really helped our confidence and we just want to carry that in to tomorrow.”

While the Capitals month hasn’t been as busy as the Islanders (they’ve played two less games), their record is pretty similar to the Isles. After pulling together two straight wins, they lost to the New York Rangers 6-0 on Friday night (5-5-1 this month). Despite that fact, the Capitals will be looking to reestablish a win streak and they’ve got quite a few dangerously talented players to help them do so.

"Alex Ovechkin is going to get his chances," Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. "He's a great player, just like Nicklas Backstrom and a lot of the other guys that they have, Mike Green on defense, and the list goes on. But we have to worry about what we have to do defensively and hopefully if we defend properly, then we'll get offensive chances."

Capuano talked about the Islanders defense being important for success against the Capitals offensive threats, but both he and Okposo have said how well the Islanders young core have stepped up when facing tough opposition.

“(In Philadelphia) they showed a lot of poise, a lot of heart and sacrifice back there blocking shots, taking hits to make a play,” Capuano said about the Islanders defensemen. “They did a really good job with their sticks defending and they made a good first pass to our forwards. It’s a situation where they’re getting an opportunity and we’re making the best of it. I really praised our defense (Thursday) night, with the four lines that Philly has and the size of their forwards. I thought our defense did a great job of containing them.”

Mark Katic #71 of the New York Islanders skates against Kris Versteeg #10 of the Philadelphia Flyers behind the net on February 24, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Katic is making his NHL debut. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Okposo gave credit to Mark Katic, a rookie defensemen who the Islanders recalled on emergency loan early Thursday morning.

“Our defense has been playing extremely well for us,” Okposo said. “You look at a guy like (Mark) Katic coming in, his first NHL game, and I thought he was terrific. He really utilized his best asset which is his skating and he didn’t show any signs of nerves at all. That was definitely good to see.”

Even though Capuano knows what his bench is capable of, that doesn’t stop him from worrying about whether or not the team is going to have a good start.

“I’m always a little worried going in because there are games that we do the right things and we get results on the scoreboard and then there are other games like Toronto where we didn’t do the necessary things that we needed to do and didn’t get the results,” Capuano said. “Hopefully they understand what has made us successful and that they can execute. That’s the biggest thing - that we execute what we want to do.”

Despite Capuano’s concern, Okposo knows how much four points against a conference rival can make a difference, so he’s hoping the team can do what he knows they’re capable of.

“We might still be flying a little bit under the radar with teams like Jersey (New Jersey Devils) doing what they’re doing, but we’re starting to play better and we just want to string together some wins here and see what happens. This is a big series for us. The Capitals are playing well right now and we just want to come in, play well and hopefully get four points.”

Puck drops at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
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