Kyle Okposo Becoming Major Player in Pens-Isles Series
By Christian Arnold (@CA_NYhockey)
UNIONDALE, N.Y – Two games, two comebacks, and one common denominator; the play of Kyle Okposo.
The 25-year-old winger has made quite the mark over the last two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Friday his fight helped sparked the Islanders and his goal in the third period won the game for them. And despite loss Sunday, Okposo again proved huge.
His shorthanded breakaway goal 5:31 got the Isles back into the game and reenergized the sold out Nassau Coliseum.
After seeing around fifteen minutes of playing time in games one and two, Okposo saw his ice time jump to 24:23. Islanders’ head coach Jack Capuano also featured him predominantly in the overtime period on Sunday.
“He’s been, especially the last two and a half months of the year, he’s playing a lot more physical,” Capuano said of Okposo’s play. “He’s playing a lot more poised and confident with the puck. He’s playing the way he ended the year last year. He’s been a big reason for our success down the stretch and his play has continued to be that way. Your best players have to be your best players for us to have a chance and I would put Kyle in that category.”
Okposo indeed has been one of the team’s best players, to the surprise of some, but not defenseman Travis Hamonic.
“He’s been doing those things all year,” he told reporters. “Maybe you guys are just finally taking notice in what he’s been doing, but he’s been a leader for us all season. Last game steps up and he gets in the fight and he gets the big goal and we end up winning the game. And then tonight he obviously comes out on the breakaway, but there is a lot more that he’s been doing.”
Hamonic compared Okposo’s play to that of a linebacker in football.
“No one can knock him off of it,” he added. “I kind of take joy in watching defenseman playing against him, because he just gives them a beating and I’m happy I’m not on the other end of it. He’s really taken it upon himself to try and be a main leader on this team and he definitely is. He’s doing a good job carrying the play in front I think”
Over the course of the regular season Okposo put up just four goals and 20 assists for 24 points in 48 games. In three games he already has two goals. And those two goals were arguable the two biggest of the series for New York.
Okposo is aware that his regular season wasn’t what many had expected of him and he wanted to step it up in the playoffs.
“I obviously had a tough year statistically for myself,” he said. “But I just wanted to keep going. I know how I can play. I’ve had better during the year and I just wanted to come out and prove it in this series.”
And prove it he has.
The Islanders have proven to be a tougher opponent than a lot of people expected, and Okposo has played a part in that. For New York to continue their strong play, number 21 will need to continue his physical style of hockey that has energized the Isles roster.
“Every time he steps on the ice he creates something,” Evgeni Nabokov said of Okposo. “That’s what the good players do and that’s who he is right now. He’s a great player for us right now. He’s moving his legs and he creates a lot of space. He creates momentum for us and he’s done a great job.”