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Home Sweet Home

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
After dressing a young roster for the team’s first exhibition of the 2011 preseason Friday night, many of the club’s returning players will make their preseason debuts at Nassau Coliseum when the Islanders face their division rival, the New Jersey Devils, on Saturday night.

“It’s always special when you play your first game at home, not just for us, but for the fans too,” said Islanders center Frans Nielsen. “They want to see the new guys and see what we have. They have a lot of expectations for us and we have a lot of expectations for ourselves. We want to win.”

He continued, “It’s going to be a pretty strong lineup, so hopefully we can do something good out there. Everybody is excited to get back out there. We’re definitely going to work hard.”

Mark Streit #2 of the New York Islanders skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 14, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Isles defeated the Leafs 4-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Perhaps one of the most notable players excited for his return to the ice is the team’s newly appointed captain, Mark Streit. This will be Streit’s first game in nearly a year (his preseason injury occurred last Sept. 25). A year of rehabilitation has done great things for the All-Star defenseman, but he’s just thrilled to get back on the ice for some game action.

“Practicing is fun and good, but I spent so many hours in the gym in the past, I don’t know how many months,” Streit said. “I’m a hockey player. I’m not a power lifter. So I’ve missed the game, I’ve missed the guys, the atmosphere. I’ve missed the Coliseum and the fans.”

What Streit missed the most may surprise you. It’s the feeling he gets before he plays.

“I just missed the feeling of going out there, having the nervous, awkward feeling before the game, the butterflies in the stomach,” Streit said. “I’m a little nervous (about tonight) to be honest, but the best way to describe how I feel is that I’m really, really excited.”

He added, “This is the first time I’m going to wear the C as well, so that’s another exciting thing.”

After missing the entire 2010-11 season, the Islanders blue-liner knows there will be some rust, so he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on his situation. Of course, Streit wants to help the team win, but he doesn’t want to force anything. He’s not going out there to prove he's still the team’s top defenseman. Instead, easing back into the game will be his main focus.

“I want to take it easy and do what I can,” Streit said. “I want to play well defensively, but I don’t need to make any miracles in my first game. I just want to play well defensively, play smart, play hard and get my rhythm back… We still have quite a while before the first regular season game.”

Though Streit will be easing back into the game, the same doesn’t go for the rest of the lineup. Nielsen said the team is expecting big things from themselves and plan to play the exhibition as if it were a game that counted in the standings.

Alexei Kovalev #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders on April 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Penguins defeated the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
“It doesn’t matter what kind of game it is (exhibition or otherwise), we always play to win,” Nielsen said. “It’s not okay to lose.”

At the same time, the team doesn’t expect to have the same rhythm as they had last February. Islanders center John Tavares said they understand it will take a few games to get back to top-form.

“You want to get comfortable, you want to get back into that feel and just get your routine back, preparing for a game,” Tavares said. “We’ve done a lot to prepare, so it’s time to put it into a game and get the feel back that way. We’re excited.”

Talking about the system, he added, “We worked on some things, not too many tweaks, but here and there. We’ve adjusted some things in our systems and in our structure, which will be tested out (Saturday). It’ll be good to see how everyone responds to it.”

No matter what, winning is this team’s mentality.

“You play with a lot of pride and for the organization and team that you’re playing with,” Tavares said. “So for sure, we’re going to go out, play hard in front of our fans and give them a good show.”

Notes & Quotes: While Brian Rolston and Marty Reasoner are not expected to play Saturday night, Frans Nielsen had a great stand-alone quote about the team’s off-season transactions:

“We have some great guys who came in,” Nielsen said. “(Brian) Rolston is an unbelievable guy. He’s really going to help us, not only on the ice, but off the ice too. He’s a leader and a good guy. He takes care of young guys. I had dinner with Nabby (Evgeni Nabokov) yesterday. He’s another great guy. Marty (Reasoner), just everyone. Everybody is just coming together. It doesn’t feel like we’ve only known these guys for a few weeks, it feels like they’ve been here forever. It’s been good.”
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