The Islanders know full well that even a hot hand is not so hot after a week on the bench. So even though goalie Kevin Poulin had been on a roll with three straight shutouts in the minors, his team realized it needed to save him at the start Monday. It whiffed.

"We kind of left him out to dry," Andrew MacDonald said after Poulin allowed two goals on the Predators' first two shots -- crucial shots, it turned out, in the Islanders' 3-1 loss at Nassau Coliseum.

Said Mark Streit, "The first two shots, they went [top] shelf, probably screened as well. You can't blame the goalie. He made some really big saves afterward. The guys in front of him weren't ready to play the first 20 minutes."

One could argue that it is the goalie's job to erase his teammates' mistakes. Or one could argue that Poulin could have been better served by being used more quickly after he was summoned last Tuesday after his three-shutout, four-win run. Either way, he was in deep water right away.

Sergei Kostitsyn whipped a wrist shot from the high slot over Poulin's left shoulder at 2:17. The goalie and his team had barely shaken that off when Matt Halischuk raced down right wing on an odd-man rush, having gathered Steve Staios' clearing attempt, and ripped a high shot past Poulin at 5:34.

"Those are pretty tough plays to open up a game with," MacDonald said. "It's our responsibility to not let that happen."

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Truth is, the Islanders, who were 15-1-7 in their previous 23 games against Western Conference teams at home, have allowed opponents to score nine times on the first shot this season. Still, this time, it was the goalie who took the brunt of it from a holiday matinee crowd of 10,755. Fans gave him a mock cheer when he caught a puck that was softly flipped in his direction, and they gave another when he made his first save at 7:21.

Poulin took the blame, saying he had remained too far back in the crease. "If I was challenging a little bit more,'' he said, "it would have been a 1-1 game."

Not until someone asked him directly did he say anything about having sat behind Evgeni Nabokov for six days. "I don't want to use that as an excuse, but I'm used to playing every second day in Bridgeport,'' he said. "Here it was a week without playing a game. The first couple of minutes, I wasn't really comfortable, but as the game went on, I was more and more comfortable."

Coach Jack Capuano praised Poulin for saving 29 of the next 30 shots; the other goal was off a beautifully executed give-and-go started and ended by David Legwand at 11:37 of the first.

Capuano also gave credit to the surprisingly good and resourceful Predators. Nashville has one of the league's lowest payrolls, but it is a perennial playoff team and has won five in a row and eight of nine. The Predators haven't lost to the Islanders in regulation in 10 years. "Their goaltender has developed into one of the best in the league," Capuano said of Pekka Rinne (36 saves).

Then again, he said his team "made soft plays" and that it needs offense from a line other than the one centered by John Tavares, who scored his 16th goal with 3:58 left.

Tavares put blame on himself and just about everyone except the guy in net. "Whether it's him or anyone else," he said, "we've got to do better."