Knockin' On The Poulin Wall?

I am going to start off by saying that this is not another Rick DiPietro blog. We all know the story; he will continue to be part of the New York Islanders' plans as long as he is physically able to wear goalie pads and the organization will continue to support him to the very end of this long, exhausting road to recovery. However, there are two goaltending prospects that are going to be competing hard for the back-up position behind Evgeni Nabokov, who is the clear cut starter for the 2013 season.

Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson were sharing time with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL for most of the 2012 year with the exception of some short-lived NHL time with the Isles. In 49 games played, Poulin went 26-18-4 with a 2.79 GAA with a .912 save percentage. His partner Nilsson was 15-8-2 in 25 games played and sported a 2.42 GAA with a .921 save percentage. Nilsson, who is a padded giant at 6'5, is still getting adjusted to the professional game and learning how to play on a smaller rink after being more accustomed to the Swedish Elite League. Poulin has now spent close to two full years developing with the Islanders and looks like he might be the most ready to make it to the NHL.

That's not to say that Nilsson won't give him a run for his money. The big Swede may have only played a total of 25 games with the Sound Tigers, but he made some impressive starts for the New York Islanders as well. He made his first start in net against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the night that Sidney Crosby made his long awaited return to the Pens line-up. Looking back at this game in retrospect, there was clearly too much hype going into this game and the pressure that this 22-year old faced was way too much for him to handle. To make a long story short, he was lit up like a Christmas tree and allowed five goals on 36 shots including a total of four points to Crosby. (Chris D. Dixon/Flickr)

But he would rebound nicely with a 24-save shutout against the New Jersey Devils on March 4th for his first NHL win. He continued his personal shutout streak up until the final 1:39 of the Isles/Devils re-match on March 12th, where the Devils would score two goals to win the game 2-1 literally at the very last minute. Not too shabby for a goalie that was hung out to dry in his first start in the NHL.

But Poulin has displayed more poise and confidence with the Islanders, despite his first two starts of the year. He allowed three goals to the Dallas Stars on December 15th in a 3-2 loss and followed it up with a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on January 16th. The Preds game was his worst, allowing three goals within the first ten minutes of the first period. But Poulin wouldn't let these games discourage him; like Nilsson, he displayed a lot of character with two wins against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 31st and February 18th, the latter showcasing a 33 save performance on 36 shots.

He would get two more starts on the year, one of which he was chased out of the net less than two minutes into the game after allowing two quick goals to the Ottawa Senators (but Al Montoya would go on to let in four more for a 6-0 loss). The other was a 2-1 loss to the Sabres in which Poulin did everything he could to keep his team in the game, kicking aside 35 of 37 shots. (560XLS/Flickr)

Despite a few bad games, Poulin has showed that he might be ready to accept a more prominent role with the New York Islanders. He has battled in the AHL and emerged as the number one goalie for the Sound Tigers, earning player of the week honors on January 8th after posting four wins, three of which were consecutive shutouts. He was also named AHL goalie of the month in February after only allowing 11 goals on 216 shots with a 6-0-1 record. In that span his stats read a 1.52 goals-against average and .949 save percentage.

There is still a case to be made that neither Poulin or Nilsson are ready to play behind Nabokov and could use some more seaoning in the AHL. After all, Al Montoya's contract is up and there hasn't been any official word that the Isles do not plan on retaining him for the 2013 year. But at the same time, with DiPietro lurking in the dark and Nabokov under contract, it would almost make more logical sense to have one of your young goaltending prospects as the number two or three goalie.

Let's say DP is on the opening night roster with Nabokov. Poulin and/or Nilsson would then have nowhere else to be but with the Sound Tigers. This would also force Mikko Koskinen back to KalPa of SM-Liiga. The third young goaltending prospect in the system left the Sound Tigers since he was barely getting any playing time behind Nilsson and Poulin. Wouldn't he be better off playing with the Isles farm team and not overseas?

Poulin as the number two, or 2-B goalie (again, assuming DP makes his typical appearances throughout the year) would likely have him receiving somewhere between 20-30 starts on the season; and who's to say that Nilsson won't see some more action either? My guess is that we will see Nabokov and Poulin as your two goalies with DP sprinkled in between injuries with Nilsson getting some time if the opportunity presents itself.

For the record, I don't say that about DP to be sarcastic. When you look at DiPietro's track record, it is almost unfortunately certain that he is going to get hurt again at some point.

With that being said, do you think that's a strong enough tandem to help the Islanders have a chance of winning on any given night?

-Rob McGowan
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