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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Senators

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
At the start of the 2010-2011 season, the New York Islanders pictured 20-year-old Kevin Poulin as the goaltender whom would have a great future with the franchise, not their starting goaltender this season. But no one could have predicted injuries to both Rick DiPietro and Nathan Lawson. Now the rookie is getting his opportunity to be the leading man a bit earlier than he expected.

“It’s not the way I wanted to get the opportunity, but I’m excited to be playing a lot more games and get more consistency as far as starting,” Poulin said after practice on Friday afternoon.

His first start as the No. 1 goaltender will come on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, just four days after the goaltender made 25 saves to help the Islanders to a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers. And while Poulin has only recorded three wins since he was recalled on Jan. 4, he’s posted a 2.37 goals against average and .929 save percentage, bolstering Capuano's faith in him.

Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on February 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)
“He’s been playing great,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “We’ve talked about Kevin. He wants to be that guy. He puts the pressure on himself to be that guy. Every game he wants to know who’s starting. So it’s good to have a guy that has that competitive edge and wants to be in there all the time. I’m not worried about Kevin.”

Poulin’s teammates also believe in him.

“When you look at him, he’s got that swagger about him,” Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said. “That’s good. That’s a good thing to have. He knows that he can do it and so do we. We believe in him.”

But having a solid goaltender between the pipes is only one piece to the puzzle and in order to win on Saturday night, the Islanders have to put a good all-around product out on the ice, starting with a full 60 minute effort from their offensive and defensive core.

“We just have to go out and play our game,” Okposo said. “We have to string together a couple wins here and hopefully get a couple start on tomorrow. We just have to come out hard the first five minutes and keep taking it to them hopefully.”

In the past, the Senators have proven to be tough opposition for the Islanders. This season, they defeated the Isles 4-1 (Nov. 4) and again 6-4 (Jan. 13). While Capuano noted that the prior games against the club haven’t turned out the way they had hoped, he said concentrating on their own game is the most important.

“We’re not really worried about how other teams play at this point in the season,” Capuano said. “We really have to worry about how we play and what we can control. That’s our work ethic. We need a better work ethic.”

Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on February 2, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Penguins shut out the Islanders 3-0. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
But that wasn’t all Capuano said the team needs to be prepared to do on Saturday night.

“We have to get shots to the net,” Capuano said. “(In our win over) Atlanta, we had 17 shots in the second period and obviously there’s a correlation to why we scored. In Pittsburgh, we had the chances and we didn’t shoot the puck and we didn’t score a goal.”

While Okposo has recently returned to the lineup after sitting out the majority of the season due to a shoulder injury, he’s started to improve upon his game. As a result, he’s earned 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in the Islanders most recent win against Atlanta and has a total of four points in seven games.

But he knows the loss in Pittsburgh was unacceptable.

“We just have to shoot the puck more,” Okposo said. “We have to get traffic to the net. That was the biggest thing that was lacking last game. They blocked a lot of shots and we have to find a way to get those pucks through.”

If the Islanders take those shots and skate to the gritty areas to chip in some dirty goals on Saturday night, they’ll earn their next win.
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