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Islanders vs. Panthers 2016 Playoffs: New lines, as Travis Hamonic inches closer

Did the answer for JT's wing come from the longtime #2 center?

The longtime core, basically.
The longtime core, basically.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We'll know after today's skate, but things increasingly point to Travis Hamonic making it back from injury for the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and quite possibly even Game 1.

Newsday and the official team site had details and quotes on the comeback attempt by Hamonic, who skated with his regular partner Calvin de Haan at Tuesday's practice.

But other storylines emerged from Tuesday too, namely some line combos that indicate change in the Isles' approach on multiple fronts.

We'll start with the center position, one of depth for the Isles even with Mikhail Grabovski out of the lineup:

  • Frans Nielsen, their top defensive center, lineup at wing with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. That's a combo of their top three forwards that Jack Capuano has experimented with late in games recently.
  • Ryan Strome, a natural center used primarily on the wing this year, was at center between veteran Steve Bernier and a combination of trade deadline acquisition Shane Prince and end-of-season recall Alan Quine.
  • Brock Nelson, a natural center who has seen plenty of time in the NHL and NCAA on the wing, was at center between Nikolay Kulemin and Josh Bailey.

We'll see what the Islanders do today and if it's all just an exercise in exploring their options before round 1 begins. But these changes, if they hold up, would definitely represent a strategy shift for the team. Quine in particular (also a natural center) was a bit of a surprise recall, but he's been an essential player for AHL Bridgeport all season while doing the things one must do to turn him into a bottom-six NHLer candidate.

Meanwhile, the defensive pairings from Tuesday weren't much of a surprise, though they could spell good things for rookie and angsty-Isles-fan favorite Ryan Pulock:

de Haan-Hamonic
Pelech-Zidlicky, Strait

With the exception of injuries and scratches during half of a back-to-back, Marek Zidlicky has been Thomas Hickey's regular partner this season. So it's interesting to see Pulock in that place.

Brian Strait and Adam Pelech are both coming off of injuries, though Pelech at least saw game action on the final weekend of the season.

Anyway, much to watch and debate until the kickoff Thursday. The only certainty is Thomas Greiss will be in goal, John Tavares will be the top center, and the fourth line is a combo as unbreakable as carbon.