made his first NHL start against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Two days after he was recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League, Islanders rookie goaltender
“I got my first start yesterday,” Nilsson said. “Obviously it wasn’t as I hoped it would be. It’s tough to be happy the day after a game, when you lose 5-0. I don’t think I played my best game out there, I know I can play better than that. The whole team knows that we can play better than we did yesterday.”
If there was ever a night to be tested, Monday would have been it. Nilsson’s first start also happened to be NHL All-Star Sidney Crosby’s return to the ice after missing more than 10 months with a concussion that he sustained last January. And the Islanders made him look exactly that, back to form, after allowing the centerman to score two goals and two assists.
|Sidney Crosby jumps in front of a loose puck in front of Anders Nilsson and Milan Jurcina on November 21, 2011 at Consol Energy Center. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“I know (Crosby) is a skilled player and one of the best players in the world, or probably the best player in the world,” Nilsson said. “Now I got the chance to play against him and I realized how good he really is. You saw yesterday how much he helped Pittsburgh to win and how much helps Pittsburgh as a team to perform better. He is definitely a really skilled player.”
Playing against Crosby and the Penguins hasn’t been Nilsson’s only battle. The rookie goaltender made his NHL debut against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, getting the nod from Head Coach Jack Capuano at the start of the second period. In 40 minutes of relief action for Rick DiPietro
, Nilsson made 14 saves on 17 shots.
“You’re never surprised when you’re a backup,” Nilsson said following the loss. “You always need to be prepared. Ricky had a tough game; he didn’t get a lot of help from the players out there. Still I think he made some good saves for us in the first period. We could’ve been down one or two more goals, so he made some great saves for us in the first period too.”
Nilsson was recalled to Long Island early Saturday morning after the team announced late Friday night that Al Montoya
was suffering from a strained hamstring and would be listed as day-to-day. That transaction left a three-goaltender system to just one healthy goalie in less than eight hours as Evgeni Nabokov
was placed on injured reserve earlier that afternoon.
Nilsson comes to Long Island after beginning his first North American Campaign with the Sound Tigers. At 6’6 and 220-pounds, the Swedish netminder is an intimidating presence inside the crease, but still finds himself learning the North American style after spending the last two seasons with his hometown team, the Lulea HF of the Swedish Elite League.
|Milan Lucic and Travis Hamonic play for position in front of Anders Nilsson during the second period at Nassau Coliseum on November 19, 2011. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images) |
“I think I’ve taken a huge step since camp,” the 21-year-old said. “I feel a lot more comfortable out there now with angles and the pace around the net. I still have some things I need to improve on. Everything happens quicker up here than it does down in the American League. It’s helped me a lot to play in Bridgeport, helped me a lot to get to where I am today.”
In seven games, Nilsson led all Sound Tigers goalies with five wins and a 2.86 goals against average; he also recorded a .908 save percentage. For now, it’s unclear how long Nilsson will stay on Long Island, but with two of the Islanders three netminders on injured reserve, Isles fans could see more of the Lulea, SWE native in the next few weeks.
For Nilsson, it’s not about winning the starting job, it’s about learning every day he’s up with the Isles.
“I still have some work to do, get adjusted to the speed and tempo,” Nilsson said. “Everything happens a lot quicker in front of the net, from the back door and everything. The shots go in quicker, so that’s what I’m learning right now, getting adjusted to the speed up here.”