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Tandem or Triple Threat?

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
With six goaltenders attending Islanders Training Camp, one question remains unanswered. Will the Islanders house a goaltending tandem or triple threat?

“The depth is great,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “I get a lot of questions about the goaltending and for me, its competition. You can’t have anything better than that. It’s the way it should be. The guys that perform and play to the level they need to be will be in our lineup to try to help us win hockey games.”
In the last few years, the Islanders have acquired an abundance of goaltenders that will help strengthen the position. When Opening Day arrives on October 8, Rick DiPietro looks like the leading candidate to get the start within the crease.
Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders tends net against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 30, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DiPietro earned one of the longest NHL contracts of any goaltender back in 2005-06, which keeps him in the Islanders system for the better part of the next decade. Truly a franchise player, the former first overall selection is determined to get back within the crease, play a consistent amount of games and concentrate on being a consistent contributor to this team.
“Everyone trains hard during the summer and gets ready for camp and goes out at the beginning of the season and plays,” DiPietro said. “I have to stay healthy. I’m more worried about staying healthy and contributing for a full season. That’s my main concern and when I go out there and I feel good, I know the results will be there.”
Working to get back to form, DiPietro had one of the best off season’s he’s had in years.
“I was on the ice quite a bit this summer and I’ve done a lot of different things physically as far as being healthy and getting stronger,” DiPietro said. “Lots of yoga and lots of work with the training staff here. I’m excited for the upcoming season.”
When he’s healthy, DiPietro’s credentials speak for themselves. He’s an All-Star net-minder who has represented his country in the Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cup of Hockey.
But when it comes to juggling the position with the remaining five goalies attending this year’s Training Camp, Islanders management will have a tough decision to make.
“It’s been like this forever now. You have young guys pushing you from behind and the other competitors step up from behind. So you don’t want to feel too comfortable. You want to feel them breathing on your back and that’s what makes everybody better.” - Evgeni Nabokov
“It’s been like this forever now,” said goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, whom the Islanders claimed off waivers last January. “You have young guys pushing you from behind and the other competitors step up from behind. So you don’t want to feel too comfortable. You want to feel them breathing on your back and that’s what makes everybody better.”
Nabokov, a 10-year NHL veteran, is a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy. The former San Jose Sharks net-minder arrived a week early for Training Camp, a sign that he wants to get to know his new teammates and become reacquainted with the NHL game after spending part of last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
“I’m thrilled to back in the NHL and I’m getting ready to do my job,” Nabokov said after an informal skate last week.
On the first day of training camp, he told reporters, “It’s easier to get into practice shape, but it may take a little longer to get into game shape, which you have to fill the gaps, you have to adjust to the angled shots and stuff like that, so that may take some time, maybe not, I don’t know. I’ll definitely work on that and see how it goes.”
Al Montoya, Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen each played at least four games in an Islanders sweater last season. Each goaltender hopes to perform well through the preseason and ultimately force management’s hand to make a tough decision.
“It’s such a young group,” Nabokov said of the Islanders locker room, not just the goaltenders. “I think this is the first time I’ve been around so many young players, so many young talented kids. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Goalie Al Montoya #35 makes a save during an NHL hockey game against the Atlanta Thrashers at the Nassau Coliseum on March 24, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Montoya was acquired last season when the goaltending situation on the Island was in dire straits. He quickly proved to be a worthy acquisition. In 20 games, he sported a 2.39 goals against average and .921 save percentage for a 9-5-5 record.
Poulin, who made his NHL debut at age 20, showed great promise last season. He recorded a.924 goals against average and 2.44 save percentage in 10 games. Unfortunately for Poulin, a freak knee injury during a pregame warmup forced him to miss the remainder of the 2010-11 season due to surgery. He’s now been cleared to do all activities without restrictions and is looking to get right back to form and show the coaches that his 10 games last season prepared him for the big time.
Koskinen, who made his debut in place of the injured Poulin, is in a contract year.  He’s desperate to show Islanders management and coaches that he’s an NHL worthy goaltender. Last year, he battled through injuries and continued to play the full AHL season.
Anders Nilsson is set to make his North American debut this season. After leading Lulea HF, his hometown team in the Swedish Elite League, to the playoffs, Nilsson made it known that he wanted to begin the transition to the North American game.
Tuesday night, when the Islanders took on the Bruins rookies for the second straight night, Nilsson made 38 saves in a 7-2 win.
So as the six goaltenders in the Islanders system go through the rigorous training schedule these next few weeks, keep a watchful eye to see what management decides.
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