Kevin Poulin will be starting for the New York Islanders tonight in what will be the biggest start of his career up to this point. The Isles will host the Nashville Predators, a team that will be giving rookie Marek Mazanec his first career start.
It’s tough to judge Kevin Poulin’s young career given the fact that he’s only appeared in 26 NHL games heading into tonight, but if there was one bright spot from the Islanders’ recent clunker of a road trip, it’s that the young Quebec goaltender might have turned a major corner in his career.
Since acquiring Evgeni Nabokov 2 years ago, this is the first time I can remember that Kevin Poulin has been chosen to start over the NHL vet. Over the past two seasons that Nabby & Poulin have been the goaltending tandem, Nabokov has been the clear number 1. Other than the occasional spot start or the back end of consecutive games, Poulin has been relegated to watch all but 10 games from the bench the last two years. The recent road trip combined with the inconsistent play of Nabokov has opened the door for Poulin to takeover a larger share of the games. “I think he’s played well. We hadn’t given him a couple of starts back-to-back here and he’s deserving of it,” stated head coach Jack Capuano following this morning’s skate. The rise in Poulin’s play might come as a surprise to many, but maybe the doubt isn’t as warranted as we thought?
After taking a quick glance at Kevin Poulin’s career stats, he’s shown that with the more consistency of his starts, the better he has played. Poulin’s most consistent year was his first in the league (10-11). During his short stint with the team that season, Poulin posted a 2.44 GAA and a .924 save percentage during a span where he was receiving more consistent game time. The following year Poulin had a stretch in February where he had impressive performances against the Hurricanes & Buffalo. Sure there was the Ottawa clunker sandwiched in the middle, but with 33 & 35 saves during those 2 games respectively, Poulin has shown he has the ability to “win” a game for a team that hasn’t been able to get that from their goaltending lately. It’s tough to put any stock in last year given the shortened season and the riding of Nabokov.
Keep in mind we are dealing with an extremely small sample size, and a position that is one of the hardest to judge in sports. I have been a Poulin doubter for some time now, but I think many Isles’ fans share the same sentiment that we want Poulin to be the guy! Prior to last week, his play could be described as “hectic” at best, but over the last 3 starts Poulin has shown a confident steadiness that may be the sign that he is ready to take the job.
Tonight is an important game. Nashville is one of the worst scoring teams in the league and they are giving a rookie his first career start. The table is set for a “W” for Kevin Poulin. Let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.