While much of the Game 4 day-after talk focused on the controversial Tom Wilson charge that appears to have knocked Lubomir Visnovsky from the next game if not the series, the more pressing issue is how the New York Islanders will adjust to losing the Slovakian defenseman.
In addition to the blueline, Visnovsky's absence will be felt on offense as the games in this series have already been low scoring. Braden Holtby has mostly been a wall, the Islanders power play has gone scoreless, and the team's third line hasn't generated much of note since Brock Nelson's series-opening goal. All were factors in the Game 4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals.
So not only are we likely to see a new defenseman -- candidates range from seldom-used Matt Donovan to rookies Griffin Reinhart or even Ryan Pulock (he of zero NHL games) -- but also a change or two at forward:
"We’re going to make some changes, there’s no question," Capuano said. "Some line combinations, maybe personnel. Now it shifts back [to Washington] and they get the matchups they want."
Though the blueline decision has the potential for the most negative impact -- whoever they choose will be someone rarely used this season -- a prospective change up front brings promise: Mikhail Grabovski sounds like he's going back in.
[Morning Skate Update: Grabovski confirmed in, defenseman decision will be between Pulock and Reinhart.]
It will be Grabovski's first game in two months, but he's been skating for a while:
"If we were concerned about that, I wouldn't put him in," Capuano said. "I wouldn't put him in that position. I think right now he's going through some extra battling. He probably could have gone a week ago or a few days ago, but he's been skating hard and he's itching to get in there."
The Isles have lots of forward options though, including some recalled after Bridgeport's AHL season ended.
Also in that last link from Brian Compton's story at nhl.com though: Capuano discussing the prospect of having Grabovski at wing or at center, where the Isles didn't use him much this season. Whether that's typical playoff smokescreen or an indication that they would move Brock Nelson around is anyone's guess. But the line of Nelson, Anders Lee and Tyler Kennedy has been stagnant. Michael Grabner, who played the first two games, could also be a consideration there.
Regardless, Grabovski was a key player for the Isles this season when healthy. If he's ready, and not rusty, he would be a major addition to the lineup, even if it's at the position where the isles are suddenly fully healthy.
Who's on D?
Back to the question of defense, though Visnovsky is a lef-handed shot, he plays the right side. Pulock offers a right-handed shot -- a helluva boomstick, in fact -- but no NHL experience. Reinhart has limited NHL experience but played both the left and right sides down in AHL Bridgeport.
Donovan, a left-handed shot who has played both sides, didn't seem to garner the staff's trust this season given his limited usage. And just because he was with the NHL club all season doesn't mean he's ahead of Reinhart or even Pulock in the pecking order now: Donovan required waivers to be demoted, whereas Reinhart and Pulock did not and needed playing time more than pressbox experience.
Would the Isles go with Pulock? Compton quoted Capuano saying it was at least an unlikely possibility:
"It's a good conversation piece for sure," Capuano said of the 20-year-old Pulock, who had 17 goals in 54 games for Bridgeport in the American Hockey League this season. "I don't know if we would do it the next game quite honestly, but having the big shot, having the 16 goals or whatever he had down there, we're going to have to talk about it."
Like many, Compton suspected the nod would be given to Reinhart.
If I had to guess, Reinhart plays tomorrow. But I think Pulock provides more of what #Isles need right now.— Brian Compton (@BComptonNHL) April 22, 2015
Agreed. There's no great choice here, as each one carries risk. The case for Donovan is that he has NHL experience as a good, quick puck mover, and is less likely to have cold feet and first-game jitters. It would be a golden opportunity for him with his next contract on the line.
But of course it's the playoffs, so no one's tipping their hand -- the Isles didn't even confirm Visnovsky's condition, other than to say he'd be evaluated. If Calvin de Haan's first period in Game 1 was any guide, some rust or jitters for whoever steps in could be inevitable.