Fiery Okposo providing spark for Islanders

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The "K" in his last name is silent, but not much about Kyle Okposo's game has been for the New York Islanders in their first-round playoff series against the Penguins.

Going into Game 4 tonight at Nassau Coliseum with his club trailing in the series, 2-1, Okposo has been arguably New York's best player through the first three games. He has a share of his team's lead with three points, which includes the winner in Game 2.

But there's more to it for the 25-year-old forward who is in the playoffs for the first time.

"He's been great for us," recent linemate Brad Boyes said Monday. "He's been physical, doing what it takes. That's what you need in the playoffs. It's been great to see. He's getting his first taste, but it doesn't really seem like it.

"He's got that excitement, maybe a little more poise, but he's doing a great job."

Many of Okposo's teammates credit him with sparking the team to a comeback, 4-3 win in Game 2 not just with his goal but with a fight against Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen after Niskanen checked New York's Matt Moulson.

In Game 3, Okposo began a comeback -- although it ultimately fell short in a 5-4 overtime loss -- with a shorthanded, third-period goal.

"I just tried to elevate my game," Okposo said. "It's the playoffs, a fun time of year to play. It's the first taste of it. I'm just trying to keep going.

"You watch the playoffs. I've been watching them for a long time, and I've been wanting to play in them for a long time. I'm trying to take advantage of this opportunity. You don't know when it's going to come again, so, as a team, we want to make it as long as possible."

Growing up, Okposo wasn't always sure his future was in hockey, much less the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Okposo was a first-round draft pick in 2006 despite not starting to play hockey until he was 7. He grew up in hockey-crazy St. Paul, Minn., the son of an American mother and a Nigerian father, and he played other sports before committing himself to hockey as a teenager.

Okposo eclipsed the 20-goal mark for the first time last season, with 24. But this year he had only four in a regular season shortened to 48 games because of a lockout and, at times early in the season, heard some discontent from the fans.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said the lockout layoff affected Okposo, but he snapped out of it.

"Midway through the year, he started to play like the Kyle Okposo that we needed him to play like," Capuano said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence."

Okposo has some skill and strength. "Thick," Boyes called his 6-foot, 212-pound teammate.

"I'm just playing with a bit more of an edge," Okposo said. "I'm just trying to go out there and make an impact on the game, and I feel like I've been doing a better job of that.

"I didn't start the regular season the way I wanted to. I'm just trying to have a better postseason."

So far, so good.

On his shorthanded goal Sunday, Okposo took a little bit of a risk in moving as far out as the point when it appeared that Frans Nielsen was going to pick off a pass by the Penguins' Brenden Morrow.

"I probably cheated a little on the play," Okposo said. "I saw [Nielsen] might be able to get the puck and, being down two, you've got to try and start something. [Nielsen] made a great pass, and I was able to put it by [goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury]."

Okposo has three hits in the three games this series. He hasn't been penalized beyond the fighting major in Game 2. But he has been playing with authority and has been tough on the Penguins.

"It separates guys from the puck," Boyes said.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] being more aggressive," Okposo said. "Just trying to finish your hits and be harder on the puck.

"I think one of my best attributes is winning [puck] battles," Okposo said. "I've just tried to elevate my battle level and try and not be denied."

mobilehome - penguins

For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here