When Mikko Koskinen started his first NHL game on Tuesday night, he became the third rookie goaltender the Isles have started this season. Kevin Poulin was slated to get the start, but he injured his knee when he hit a rut in the ice during pregame warmups at Nassau Coliseum. At the end of 60 minutes, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Islanders 5-3.
“It’s just unfortunate what’s happening, but we can’t be using that (injuries) as an excuse,” Matt Moulson said. “The other guys in this room and on the ice have to perform. It’s obviously tough having guys out, and stuff like that happening, but we have to overcome it.”
The circumstances aren’t the way any goaltender would like to get his first opportunity to play in the National Hockey League, but Koskinen told the media he didn’t have time to be nervous, as he was thrust into action at the last minute.
“At first, I thought it (Poulin’s injury) wasn’t anything bad,” Koskinen said. “I thought he was still going to start to the game, but there wasn’t much time to do anything. I didn’t even have time to be nervous.”
Koskinen had solid performance in the second period and even though the Maple Leafs started the period with a 2-1 lead and outshot the Isles 12-10, the rookie goaltender settled down and didn’t let up a goal.
Then at 15:02, Michael Grabner put the Islanders right back into the game as he skated to the paint to score a rebound goal off a shot from Radek Martinek and tied the score at two.
Playing in his first NHL game, Goaltender Mikko Koskinen #1 of the New York Islanders makes a save off of Mikhail Grabvoski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 8, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
But Tomas Kaberle set the tone for the final period as he scored the Maple Leafs third goal at 2:34. Nikolai Kulemin gave the Leafs their second two-goal lead of the game at 8:49 as he netted a beauty of a goal. Then Fredrik Sjostrom tallied the Leafs final goal of the game to give them a 5-2 lead at 14:53.
“We made some mistakes tonight on a couple of the goals,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “That hurt us. We can talk about special teams or goaltending, but we were out of position, especially on Kaberle’s goal for sure. And then we had a turnover on the next one, and that’s the turning point of the game.”
The Isles picked up their play in the second half of the third period and Rob Schremp converted to cut it to 5-3 with 5:07 remaining in regulation. Then with 21.5 seconds remaining in regulation, the Islanders had the chance they’d been looking for. The Leafs took a delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass and the Isles had pulled Koskinen seconds before so they ended up with a 6-on-4 advantage.
Just then, Moulson fired a gorgeous shot from the slot, which went high over the shoulder of James Reimer. Unfortunately, the puck crossed the goal line milliseconds after the referee blew the whistle to call PA Parenteau for hooking (with 3.1 seconds left on the clock).
Grabner blamed the loss on the Isles recent rash of slow starts.
“We gave up a lot of quality opportunities in the beginning,” Grabner said. “It’s tough when you come in, and you weren’t supposed to play. We had to help him out better than we did.”
The Leafs jumped on the board quickly. Just 1:29 into the first period, Colby Armstrong scored on the Maple Leafs first shot of the game. Then at 6:31, Jay Rosehill made it 2-0.
“I thought (Koskinen) played well,” Moulson said. “I don’t think we gave him much help. We had a lot of odd-man rushes. They had a lot of good chances in the slot. He made some big stops and we can’t leave him out to dry like that.”
Midway through the first period, Kaberle took a penalty for tripping and Moulson, the Islanders leading goal scorer, converted on the power play to cut the differential in half at 10:48.
When Poulin left the ice during pregame warmups, he needed help from the Islanders trainers due to an injury to his left knee; the team will know more about the severity of his injury once he receives an MRI on Wednesday.
“I was a little surprised,” Moulson said about Poulin’s injury. “I thought maybe he had just stepped on a puck and went down. I didn’t know how serious it was. I just felt bad for the kid because he’s playing some great hockey, and he’s a good kid. I felt horrible for him.”
Left without a backup goaltender, the Islanders were forced to search for a backup at the last minute and Joel Martin, who started the season in the ECHL, was recalled on emergency loan from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers just in time to sit on the bench for the third period.
“I got dressed quicker than I’ve ever dressed before, that’s for sure,” Martin said. “I was ready to go out there for the beginning of the third.”
If Koskinen is asked to be the starting goaltender when the team flies to Montreal for Thursday night’s game, he said he’ll be up for the challenge.
“I feel confident,” Koskinen said. “I thought I played pretty well in the second period. That gives me a lot of confidence for the future. I have to take that through all 60 minutes.”