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Islanders keep critics at bay -- at least for a night

Islanders' Thomas Vanek collides with San Jose Sharks'

Islanders' Thomas Vanek collides with San Jose Sharks' Matt Nieto during the first period. (Dec. 10, 2013) Credit: AP

SAN JOSE -- The Islanders kept the wolves/demons/pitchfork-wielding Twitterers at bay for a night, doing what they did exceptionally well last season on Tuesday: Staying calm and rallying to win a game after falling behind.

This season, especially the past month, has been game after game of the Islanders playing well -- or at least, playing even -- for 10, 20, 30, sometimes even 40, 50 or 55 minutes, only to fall apart when an opponent capitalizes on an Islander mistake.

One mistake turned into two, then three, and the hole was too deep for a team that has 15 skaters who¹ve forgotten how to score goals.

On Tuesday, the Islanders managed to remind us all of last season¹s formula and remind themselves that being down doesn¹t mean being out.

Think back to the games the core guys identified as the turning points of last season: Valentine¹s Day in Madison Square Garden, a week later in Montreal.

They were down 2-0 in each of those games, got themselves settled and came away with shootout and overtime wins. And then, somehow, it clicked that the Islanders could be a good team, good enough to win most nights and they rallied to make the playoffs.

All that sunshine is a long way off right now. The keys to last season were good-enough goaltending, which they got from Kevin Poulin on Tuesday but haven¹t had at all in any of the other 31 games, and timely scoring from lines not centered by John Tavares, which is still missing.

Jack Capuano -- not fired, not about to be fired, so don¹t bother asking for a while, kthanksbye -- showed some resolve in sticking with 9/10 forwards and 4/5 defensemen through most of the third. Matt Carkner had another rough go and may sit out on Thursday for Radek Martinek, just to
change up the D.

It was a throwback win of sorts, but it was just one win and it was another shootout win, the fourth of the Isles¹ nine victories so far.

That means they need to win some regulation games, quickly, if they want to rejoin the playoff mess in the Metro Division.

Ryan Strome also joins the team today in Phoenix and he¹ll play tomorrow against the Coyotes. I could see him centering Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey; I could also see him between Nelson and Cal Clutterbuck, but I don¹t think I¹d have Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen and Bailey back
together. Just not enough working for any of those guys right now.

Poulin¹s impressive performance last night probably means the Isles wait until they get home before returning Anders Nilsson to Bridgeport and activating Evgeni Nabokov off IR. It was legitimately neck and neck between Poulin and Nilsson as to who stayed and who went up until the start of this road trip; Nilsson was not good enough in St. Louis and Anaheim and Poulin was decent in L.A. and excellent last night. Simple enough choice.

Brian Strait should also be ready to come off IR by the time the weekend rolls around. The simplest move there is returning Aaron Ness to Bridgeport; the little guy has fought hard to improve his game at the NHL level, but he may be better off working more down in the AHL.

I could be wrong there, however. Carkner and Martinek haven¹t been so hot, clearly; if Garth Snow (also not fired) and Capuano would prefer eight defensemen given those two and their struggles, Ness or Matt Donovan could be here as the third-pair partner for Strait.

Still no news on Lubo Visnovsky, who has seen three specialists and still hasn¹t been cleared to resume skating.

Off to Phoenix. Keep the pitchforks in the garage for a couple days.

New York Sports