Most of the Islanders wait roughly two minutes to see action. Two or three line shifts and the skaters come over the boards and into the fray. Kevin Poulin, whose job description is "backup goalie," sat for seven days before he was called to be Evgeni Nabokov's proxy (a 3-2 loss to Chicago), and since has waited another 13 days.
With back-to-back games coming this week -- at Pittsburgh Friday, against Philadelphia Saturday -- another Poulin start appears near. "We haven't decided," coach Jack Capuano said Wednesday. "But as we move on, Kevin's going to get more playing time, there's no doubt about that."
Meanwhile, Poulin waits. He's only 23 and, if his career lasts anywhere near as long as the 38-year-old Nabokov, he has time. How Poulin keeps himself ready is the issue.
"Tough question to ask me," Capuano said. "I just know that, when Kevin was called upon, while he's been here, he's been real good." Capuano slyly suggested "meeting with Snowy [general manager Garth Snow] on that, because Snowy was a backup goalie."
For now, Poulin would rather be Nabokov's understudy, waiting for his brief moments in the spotlight, than playing regularly for the Islanders' minor-league Bridgeport affiliate. "I'm practicing in the NHL," he said, "the best league in the world, against the best shots I can get, the best practices. You just have to earn your starts."
As a goalie, the "mental game is totally different" from his skating teammates'. "We're on the same ice but it's a totally different game," he said, "almost a different sport, you know? They try to score, we try to stop the puck."
He had been a defenseman as a pre-teen, but "I liked blocking shots" and put himself in the net. Rare is the NHL team that uses its backup nearly as much as its No. 1 goalie, but if filling Poulin's role requires a special personality, Capuano -- himself a former defenseman -- said he wouldn't know.
What he does know is that Poulin is "working extremely hard, on and off the ice, always in the video room, one of those guys who takes a lot of pride in his game. He's got the attitude you want as the last line of defense."
So, anytime now . . .
"That's our job, right?" Poulin said. "To be prepared."
Notes & quotes: With defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky's status still uncertain (concussion symptoms), the Islanders signed 37-year-old Radek Martinek to a one-year, $600,000 contract.