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Through injuries, linemates for Tavares emerge

by Brian Compton
As training camp progressed, New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon was probably beginning to think the injury bug his team suffered from last season was going to carry right into 2009-10.
In his first preseason game, Kyle Okposo suffered a mild concussion due to a vicious hit from Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Other players also went down with injuries, including Doug Weight, Sean Bergenheim, Frans Nielsen and Trent Hunter. And let's not forget that Rick DiPietro, the team's franchise goaltender, was and still is working his way back from various knee and hip injuries.
The injury bug made it difficult for Gordon to find linemates for No. 1 draft choice John Tavares. Gordon mixed and matched different combinations, trying to find a trio that could gel together.
On Saturday night, Gordon may have found the right combo.
Skating alongside Okposo and childhood buddy Matt Moulson, Tavares tallied a goal and an assist in his first NHL game in the Isles' 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"It was definitely there," Gordon said of the chemistry between the three. "We wanted to try some different combinations in training camp and see how it would set up with different players. We didn't have that option losing Kyle, Frans, Hunts, Bergenheim … this is kind of on the fly here. We have to find some combinations. This was a good start for us. I think those three guys played well together."
Tavares certainly didn't have any complaints. The 19-year-old needed less than 13 minutes to notch his first NHL point as he assisted on Mark Streit's power-play goal. Tavares then scored his first goal with a power-play tally of his own at 7:09 of the second period.

"I thought our line played real well," Tavares said. "We had some good chemistry with me, Matt and Kyle. I felt better out there than I did all preseason. We're really starting to get chemistry with all the guys. Just being in a game like that, it's so exciting."

Okposo looked awfully good considering he missed most of the preseason due to the aforementioned concussion. He had four shots on goal in 22:18 of ice time and set up Tavares on a breakaway in the second that was denied by Marc-Andre Fleury.

"We had some good plays out there," Okposo said. "We had a lot of chances and a lot of fun. I was trying to get my legs under me, and they made it easy. It was pretty easy to play with them."
For Gordon, it was pretty easy to watch. More importantly, he was impressed with Okposo's performance after missing more than two weeks of action.
"Kyle, for basically playing only seven minutes of preseason hockey, was one of our best players," Gordon said. "I've said all along, he's just going to keep getting better."
There's a good chance Tavares will, too. While No. 91 admitted he suffered from some pre-game jitters, it certainly didn't show once the puck dropped.
"I think that gives you a lot more energy," Tavares said of the early butterflies. "I just tried to come out hard and get my feet going. We got some chances early and I think we'll build off that."

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