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Isles' Joensuu scores in first NHL game

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts before things get crazy on the trade front:

First of many?
-- I'm not sure of many things these days, but I'll say this: Neil Smith did some job in his 20 minutes as general manager of the New York Islanders.

OK, so it was 40 days. But it was Smith who sat at the Isles' table at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft -- you know, the one that delivered first-rounder Kyle Okposo.

But it appears as if Smith wasn't done there. In the second round, the Islanders selected 6-foot-4, 207-pound Finnish left wing Jesse Joensuu, who had 17 goals, 13 assists and a plus-20 rating in 56 games this season for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League.

With captain Bill Guerin in trade limbo, Joensuu got his first taste of the NHL on Monday night. He did not disappoint, as he scored in the second period of the Isles' 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche at Nassau Coliseum.

"The one thing I've noticed about (his play in) Bridgeport is that he's got a willingness and drive to get to the net," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "It's funny, the one time he didn't do it was when he scored the goal. That's a good sign that he's willing to stand in there and battle."   

Joensuu, 21, broke a 1-1 tie at the 2:31 mark of the second when he capitalized on a loose puck in front of Avs goalie Andrew Raycroft. Not bad for someone who was playing his fourth game in as many nights. Joensuu was coming off a 3-in-3 with Bridgeport.

''In the first period I felt awful, but obviously playing in the NHL I didn't want to say anything,'' Joensuu said. ''I can't really describe it. Hearing today that I'm going to play and then scoring a goal, it's a little bit too much.''

It wasn't too much for the Islanders fans who braved the snow (no pun intended) to watch the Isles earn their second-straight victory and extend their points streak to three games.

If anything, Joensuu provided the fans with a wonderful distraction while GM Garth Snow works out the Guerin situation.

The Isles' captain was pulled moments before Saturday's 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres, but has yet to be traded.

''When your captain is going through something like this, everyone is wondering what is going on,'' said forward Jon Sim, who had three assists and was a plus-4 Monday. ''As a group, we still have to play hockey and I think we're doing a good job of that.'' 

Getting closer -- Marian Gaborik took another step on the road to recovery Monday when he returned to Minnesota to ramp up his workouts.

Gaborik has missed all but six games this season due to a torn labrum and damaged cartilage in his left hip that was causing chronic groin problems. After undergoing surgery in January, the talented winger spent the next eight weeks in Colorado for rehabilitation. He was told the recovery process would last 10-14 weeks, but Gaborik is feeling pretty good these days.

"I'm going to come back and skate hard, skate with the gear on and obviously progress; and when that time will come I'm definitely looking forward to it," Gaborik said. "So hopefully it's going to be toward the end of the month and, hopefully, earlier. We'll see how everything feels and so far everything feels good. I'm really confident about the situation and going forward."

Minnesota certainly could use Gaborik's assistance. Back-to-back losses have dropped the Wild into 10th place in the Western Conference and they are averaging just 2.48 goals per game, good for 26th in the League. Minnesota kicks off a difficult road trip Tuesday in Vancouver and also plays at San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim during the stretch. Gaborik will begin skating on his own Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

"Obviously this is a tough road trip and I wish I could help," Gaborik said. "But I just have to wait and come back at the right time and come back strong. I don't want to just come back to come back. I want to come back when I really feel I can contribute and be a big piece."

'Kicking tires' -- The Ottawa Senators may be involved in a deal or two before Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET deadline. Sens GM Bryan Murray admitted his phones have been busy as of late.

''I've had some calls on a couple of players, but not a lot at this point,'' Murray said after the team skated Monday. ''I get the feeling, and I've talked to a lot of other managers that are sort of in the same spot we're in -- and there are many -- and they're getting the same kind of thing. People are kind of kicking tires, but not really making any commitment as far as what they would offer for a particular player.''

Two players who could be on the move are Chris Neil and Filip Kuba, as neither has signed a contract extension with Ottawa. Kuba has a no-trade clause and hasn't been asked to waive it just yet.

''I talked to Filip's agent a number of times (Sunday). I don't know how far we've gone -- I don't think very far,'' Murray said.

''I've talked to Chris, and his agent is coming to town, I believe, either (Monday) night or (Tuesday) morning and we'll hopefully have a meeting and see if there is anything we can really talk about.''

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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