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Struggling Senators visit Long Island

by John Kreiser /
SENATORS (16-21-6) at ISLANDERS (13-21-7)


Last 10 -- Ottawa 2-5-3; New York 6-3-1

Season series -- The teams are meeting for the second time this season but the first since Nov. 4, when the Senators hosted the Islanders at Scotiabank Place and emerged with a 4-1 victory. Ottawa has won four of the last five meetings, though the Isles got points in two of those games.

Big story -- While the Islanders are playing their best hockey of the season after a seven-week slide that has all but eliminated them from the playoff race, the Senators have fallen on hard times and are close to joining the Isles among the teams that will soon turn their attention to rebuilding. Tuesday night's 6-0 loss at Boston marked their sixth consecutive loss and has triggered rumors of upheaval in the lineup, behind the bench and even in the front office. The Senators have dropped to 13th in the East, 27th in the overall standings and 29th in goals scored.

Team Scope:

Ottawa -- With Pascal Leclaire injured and Brian Elliott struggling, Swedish rookie Robin Lehner is slated to get his first NHL start on Thursday. Lehner, the Sens' second-round pick (No. 46) in 2009, has made a couple of relief stints in previous call-ups, but the 19-year-old will become the youngest goaltender ever to start a game in an Ottawa uniform.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," Lehner told the team's website after a practice session on the campus of Boston University. "When they told me (I was starting), I was just really happy. I'm looking forward to it. I'll try to go in there and do as well as I can.

"I did have some small experiences with it so far (this season) and in a couple of exhibition games. I want to just go in and don't think too much. Just go in and try to help them as much as I can and try to help them turn it around."

New York -- The Isles have gotten a boost from a young goaltender of their own. Kevin Poulin, taken in the fifth round in 2009, has played well after getting the call when Rick DiPietro went down with a groin injury on Jan. 3. He's 1-0-1 in two starts and stopped 48 of 51 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to Vancouver on Tuesday.

"Kevin played excellent tonight," interim coach Jack Capuano said. "He was seeing the pucks, he controlled his rebounds. He saw enough shots obviously, but he played extremely well for us and he gave us a chance to win the hockey game."

Who's hot -- John Tavares' improvement has been a big key to the Isles' rebound after a stretch in which they lost 20 of 21. Tavares has 15 points in New York's last 13 games, a stretch in which the Islanders are 8-3-2. He leads the team in goals (15) and points (29).

Injury report -- Ottawa is without Leclaire (lower body), forward Alex Kovalev (knee) and center Jason Spezza (shoulder). … The Islanders are still missing DiPietro and center Frans Nielsen (groin), as well as six players (Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, Doug Weight, Trent Hunter, Mike Mottau and Mark Eaton) who are out long-term. The latest injury was to rookie forward Rhett Rakhshani, who's reportedly out with a concussion.

Stat pack -- Poulin became the first goalie under the age of 21 to face 51 shots in an NHL game since Dan Blackburn did it for the Rangers on Nov. 23, 2001. He is also the first goalie under the age of 21 to make at least 48 saves in an NHL game since in more than 22 years. … The 92 shots in the Canucks-Isles game (51 by Vancouver, 41 by New York) were the most in a game in the League this season.

Puck drop -- The talk on Long Island about all the youth on the Isles has been masked by the fact that there were actually a fair number of older players. Not now. With injuries taking their toll on several older players and the trade of 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson on Jan. 1, the lineup that dressed against Vancouver had just two players who had reached their 30th birthday (Radek Martinek and 30-year-old Zenon Konopka), while three (Travis Hamonic, Poulin and Tavares) were born in the 1990s. The average age of the lineup that faced Vancouver was just under 25.

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