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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Hurricanes

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
If there was ever a time to call the New York Islanders injury depleted, it would be now. Radek Martinek is the only Islanders defenseman - who started the regular season on Long Island – that’s still standing as the team goes into tonight’s matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The nine-year Islanders veteran played one of his best games of the season Thursday night, against the New York Rangers, recording both a goal and an assist for points 15 and 16.

“Marti (Martinek) is sometimes one of those guys that goes under the radar,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “But he’s got great assets with his skating and anytime he shoots the puck, good things happen. Sometimes he plays it safe and gets it down low behind the net, which is fine, but he is a threat when he shoots the puck.”

Remarkably, after losing Jack Hillen and Ty Wishart, accompanied by Frans Nielsen, arguably the team’s most valuable player, the Islanders seemed to grow stronger. Players such as Mark Katic and Dylan Reese played larger roles as Capuano’s bench shortened to four defensemen.

Radek Martinek #24 of the New York Islanders battles for control of the puck with Marian Gaborik #10 of the New York Rangers on March 31, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“It’s a testament to the depth that we have,” Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. “It’s definitely going to be a young core back there (on the blue-line) tomorrow in terms of games played, but I think they’ve done a good job stepping in defensively. It isn’t an easy position in hockey or especially in the NHL to play.”

Moulson continued, “It’s good to see the young guys stepping in like Katic, Reese, Wishart and Hammer (Travis Hamonic), who’s been with us for a while now. But it’s been good to see whoever’s been called to step in. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.”

Capuano agreed, “I really think those guys played with confidence and didn’t let the effect of being on the big stage of an Islanders-Rangers game affect them in any way. I was proud of the way they played.”

Capuano also called the Islanders man-games-lost statistic baffling.

“I can’t put a figure on what’s transpired since I’ve got here,” Capuano said. “I know there were injuries when I got here, but nothing obviously (to this degree), especially on the back end. There are teams that have gone through some injuries, but I believe goaltending and defense is the toughest position in the game and you want to build your team around that. We’ve gone through six goalies and our defense, I’m not even sure how many man-games we’ve lost.”

While the Islanders lineup was diminished to just 15 skaters by the end of Thursday’s game, they never let that hurt their confidence. Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the young team is determined to finish the season strong.

And even though the Islanders completed Thursday’s matchup with four defensemen, three of whom were rookies, and they earned a 6-2 win over their cross-town rivals – putting just three points between the Rangers and the ninth place Hurricanes, who have one game at hand.

“We have to take pride in being the spoiler going down the stretch,” Moulson said. “When you’re mathematically eliminated, being the spoiler to teams that need the points, no matter who it is, it gives you something a little extra to play for. If we could play spoilers to everyone, we’d probably like that.

The Islanders should have the extra edge as Michael Grabner is expected to return to the lineup after he celebrated the birth of his first-born Thursday night. He’s posted 31 goals and 17 assists for 48 points in 72 games, making an extremely strong case for a Calder Trophy nomination.

“The thing about Grabner is, you can talk about his speed and you can talk about his hockey sense and you can talk about his vision and his ability to score some key goals at some key times, but he’s played very well away from the puck and he’s played very well defensively,” Capuano said.

Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders skates against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 26, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Flyers defeated the Islanders 4-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
But Carolina’s 18-year-old forward Jeff Skinner has been going toe-for-toe with Grabner in the Calder Trophy talks. He’s just one goal shy of the 30-goal milestone and his 29 assists have the NHL’s youngest player at the top of the rookie scoring charts with 58 points.

“Grabs (Grabner) has had a different path to his success with the different teams that he’s played on and being waved,” Capuano said. “Obviously when you look at the other side with an 18-year-old kid doing what he’s doing, it’s pretty darn impressive.”

But looking at the standings, and the meaning of a Hurricanes win, Carolina is guaranteed to come out guns-a-blazing Saturday night. They’ve got some heavy firepower with Skinner and veteran Eric Staal up front.

“I think they’re a good transition team, especially Staal and Skinner,” Moulson said. “We have to make sure we’re keeping it simple tomorrow and getting pucks in. The last time we played them, we had a few too many giveaways and they capitalized on them.”

Moulson continued, “I think we have to keep it simple against teams that have a good transition. We need to chip pucks in, get the forecheck going, make sure we always have guys high to ensure they don’t get odd-man breaks. And I think we just need to get a lot of shots on Cam Ward. He’s a good goalie so we have to get a lot of traffic and a lot of shots on him.”

The last time the Isles faced the Canes, they fell 3-2 in overtime, after holding a 2-1 lead until the score was tied with less than five minutes left in regulation.

“I don’t think we’ve played great against Carolina this year,” Moulson said. “We know that they’re fighting for their playoff lives, so it’s going to be another intense game. They need this win pretty badly. We should be up for the game anyways because there are only four left, but if we can take any extra motivation, I think that (being the spoilers) would be it.”
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