Penguins Notebook: Growing pains won't slow Islanders' Okposo
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders has the potential to be one of the better power forwards in the NHL someday.
He's big (6 foot 1, 200 pounds), can skate and has proven that he isn't allergic to perspiration.
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Still, he is only 20 years old, and New York's game against the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum last night was just his 23rd in the league, so Okposo hasn't been the consistent force he figures to be as his career progresses.
"He's got a [few] growing pains going on right now," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. "At times he's been very good, and at times he's been a little inconsistent.
"The biggest thing I've told him is that he has to realize that he's capable of so much more, with his skating [and] hitting. He's got to play like he's an NHL player, not just play like he's trying to find himself. If he does that, he'll play with more confidence."
Upgrading his shooting percentage probably would go a long way toward enhancing Okposo's belief in his abilities.
He went into last night's game with 30 shots, the most of any NHL rookie, but had gotten just one of them past a goaltender, which translates to a shooting percentage of .333. If that number were any smaller, it would be invisible to the naked eye.
"I think they're going to go in," said Okposo, who was Sidney Crosby's teammate for one year at Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in Minnesota. "I've just been kind of playing, not terrible, but not great, either. I expect a lot more of myself. I need to be better."
Crosby, who sat out Friday's practice because of an unspecified injury, decided he would be able to play against the Islanders after going through the game-day skate.
"I just wanted to see how it felt, and it felt good [enough] to play," he said. "It's not where I want to be, but close enough."
The Islanders entered last night's game with a league-high six shorthanded goals and, even more striking, had gotten them from six players, including defensemen Chris Campoli and Mark Streit.
Gordon encourages his penalty killers to be aggressive, and makes a point of using forwards such as Richard Park and Trent Hunter, who have enough skill to be able to capitalize on at least some of the scoring chances they create but won't neglect their defensive duties.
"I came to the conclusion, as I watched other teams, that they had their offensive players out there killing penalties and if you can have an offensive guy out there killing a penalty, it obviously will give you an opportunity to score," Gordon said.
When Penguins winger Ruslan Fedotenko, a member of the Islanders last season, arrived at his stall in the locker room after the morning skate, there was a Mr. Potato Head figure, in Darth Vader regalia, waiting for him.
Fedotenko, who purportedly was known to at least some of his ex-teammates as "Potato Head," quickly labeled it the handiwork of New York center Mike Sillinger, but declined to discuss the story behind it.
"I can't tell you," he said, laughing heartily. "Or I'd have to kill you."
Islanders tough guy Mitch Fritz, who earned good reviews for his performance in a fight against Georges Laraque of Montreal, was demoted to New York's Bridgeport farm team Friday night, snuffing the chances of a matchup with Penguins enforcer Eric Godard.
First Published November 9, 2008 12:00 am