Today, for the first time in what will hopefully be many, many more occasions, Islanders fans get to consider Nielsen and Nelson at the same time. (And maybe one day soon: Nielsen and Nelson and Nilsson. But never this.)
Frans Nielsen, who left Game 5 with a lower body injury, is a gametime decision for Game 6. He skated at today's morning skate and was optimistic, but if he can't play then it sure looks like rookie Brock Nelson would be his replacement.
[UPDATE: Turns out the Islanders are going with both: Nielsen is healthy enough to play, Nelson makes his NHL debut in place of Jesse Joensuu.]
Nelson has never played an NHL game, but he had a very good pro debut season in AHL Bridgeport, with 52 points (25-27) in 66 games interrupted by a mid-season broken jaw that slowed his production even after he rushed back. His ideal potential is a Nielsen-type two-way center with more of a shooting instinct than the Dane.
Still, replacing Nielsen in one's first NHL action during a do-or-die playoff game is a tall order. If he plays, expect the Isles to have to rework some things and rely more on Keith Aucoin and Nelson's occasional Bridgeport linemate Casey Cizikas.
The concern if Nielsen plays:
- The Penguins may target him, probing to see if it's a groin or knee that can be re-aggravated.
- The risk of re-injury (which docs are no doubt evaluating) with or without Pens shenanigans would have a bad impact during the game.
- And even if he makes it through the game, the NHL has Game 6 and 7 on back-to-back nights, so there's no recovery time if the Isles win tonight.
So, will Nielsen play?
"He'll get more treatment," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after practice. "I really haven't talked to him since the skate, but he went through the practice OK. We have some options as to what guys we can utilize if he can't go."
"Yeah (it’s the coaches decision)," he said after the skate. "I guess they have to talk to the doctors too about it and if they’re comfortable and don’t think it’s something that’s coming back."
Whatever happens, I'm not thinking Brock Nelson will have gotten much sleep during pre-game nap time today.
Separately, a fun question with some interesting answers when Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked several Islanders if they have to adjust shooting on the right-catching Tomas Vokoun, including this from Josh Bailey:
The fact that he’s a different style goalie too … he’s not as traditional as we see nowadays with the butterfly. He’s really good at reading where you have to shoot. The key really is getting people to the net.
It's deep into the series, on home ice to stay alive. No pressure.