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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Maple Leafs

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
At the start of the 2010-2011 season, the New York Islanders never thought that they'd lead the NHL in man-games lost. Even as players continued to land on the injured reserve, the Isles have started the month of February with an impressive 2-1-0 record.

Rookie goaltender Kevin Poulin earned wins in both of his starts, including his first career win on home ice Saturday night versus Ottawa. With injuries to Nathan Lawson and Rick DiPietro, Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano has said Poulin will see the bulk of playing time. The 20-year-old is expected to be between the pipes to face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

“Kevin has the opportunity right now,” Capuano said. “It’s always a good thing for a guy to get an opportunity in the NHL whether he stays or he doesn’t, to see what he’s got to do to get better and what he needs to work on and to see how other guys prepare for games. But he’s got an opportunity right now and he’s making the best of it. He’s playing well.”

Goaltender Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders looks on against the Ottawa Senators during the game at the Nassau Coliseum on February 5, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The schedule this month will be demanding for just one goaltender to handle; Tuesday night’s matchup with Toronto starts a series of four games in six nights for the Isles. If Lawson isn’t ready to return during that time, it will be a surefire test for Poulin to see if he can withstand the pressure of starting night in and night out.

“He’s a confident kid,” Capuano said. “All the guys are. They’re confident. They feel like they can play here. They want the opportunity and that’s what I see in Kevin. He wants the opportunity.”

But when the puck drops at Nassau Coliseum, there will be more to the game than eyeing the performance of Poulin. Both the Islanders and the Maple Leafs have posted 2-4-0 records in their last six games, while also recording 2-1-0 runs in the first three games this month.

One Islanders line that's made noticeable improvements since the All-Star Break is that of Josh Bailey, Rob Schremp and Jeremy Colliton. The trio accounted for two goals in their last contest.

“We’re still not where we want to be, but I think last game we finally got on the score sheet and got a goal there with Schrempie,” Bailey said. “We just have to build off of that. The thing we’ve been trying to do is take care of our own end first and try and make all the right plays, do the right things, and the offense will take care of itself.”

Saturday night, Schremp put up both goals, but Capuano gave his linemates a lot of credit too.

“I thought that was one of Jeremy’s best games,” Capuano said. “He was taking hits to make plays and he made a great hit on the back post to get the puck to Schremp there for the goal. We put them out for the 5-on-3 and they scored as well. So it was one of our better lines (on Saturday) and it’s good to see that from those guys because they work hard and they got rewarded.”

While Schremp’s power play goal is what lifted the Islanders ahead 4-3, improvement on the power play will be extremely important in Tuesday night’s matchup. The Islanders and Maple Leafs power play units have been comparable as they’ve respectively posted 17.6 and 17.2 percent success rates.

Jeremy Colliton #37 of the New York Islanders skates against the Ottawa Senators during the game at the Nassau Coliseum on February 5, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
“We got the 5-on-3 goal (on Saturday), but games previous to that, we just weren’t getting pucks to the net for whatever reason,” Capuano said. “We’re working right into the penalty kills hands. We’ve got great zone time and doing things we want to do, but we’re doing things the PK wants us to do. So we have to get traffic, but more importantly, we have to make it more simplified and get pucks through to the net.”

On the other side of the puck, the Isles have successfully killed 82.7 percent of all the penalties this season, while the Maple Leafs have killed just 76.9 percent.

In addition to special teams, the starts to the games have been crucial to the Islanders recent wins. They’ve been making better starts and are letting up fewer early goals because they’ve come to the puck drop ready to give a full 60-minute effort.

“I thought we had a good first (on Saturday),” Bailey said. “We had a couple breakdowns defensively that we had to patch-up, but all in all, we played a strong 60 minutes and when you put together a strong 60 minutes you get wins. So that’s obviously something we want to strive for consistently.”

Capuano agreed when he said, “If we play that way, we give ourselves a chance. We have to play that way. We played a north-south game, not an east-west game. I thought the territorial battle, we had control of that and that’s how we want to play.”
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