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Islanders Opener: Ho-Sang, two young D to be scratches

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Cue the outrage machine!

NHL: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres
Pause, but only for a moment?
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They made the season opening roster, but New York Islanders youngsters Joshua Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech appeared to be slated for the opening night healthy scratches, according to a report by Arthur Staple in Newsday.

UPDATE: Watching the morning skate in Columbus Friday morning, Staple tweeted that it looked like it might be Scott Mayfield drawing the scratch with Pelech playing.

So...we’ll see.

In Thursday’s story Staple categorized it as a nod to “veteran experience” — late 30s players Jason Chimera and Dennis Seidenberg get the nod instead.

Call me guilty of low expectations, but I’m just grateful Ho-Sang (and Mathew Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier, and Pulock) all made the team, something that was much less certain before injuries wiped out training camp for Shane Prince and Alan Quine.

It’s also something that is frankly out of character for the Islanders of recent seasons, as they “over-ripen” prospects in a league that continually trends younger while putting P.A. Parenteau on the street and making Jaromir Jagr wait until October to get a contract.

Anyway, I suspect there are a few more things at work in Doug Weight’s head:

1. Opening Night in Columbus

The Blue Jackets are coming off a big season with raised expectations. It’s their home opener. They like to play physical, in-your-face. I’d imagine Weight and staff like the idea of another physical and calming veteran like Chimera in the lineup. I’d bet similar thinking — the physical side — would factored in with the choice of Mayfield (or maybe Pelech, if it turns out), too.

2. Youth or Not, There is Still a Pecking Order

Not to say Ho-Sang didn’t earn a spot. But if you have 23 players you believe in (hey, that’s the ideal!), you have three unhappy scratches each night. The only real hammer coaches have left over young players is to try to keep them hungry, motivated, improving — not let them think anything is a given — by minutes and lineup decisions. For these guys it’s “nice job making the roster. That’s was only step one.”

3. Internal Balance ‘in the Room’

Progressive and analytic-savvy fans cringe at references to the psychological, group dynamics or other factors that may exist but cannot be quantified. But they are things any manager dealing with people must consider. Just as coaches want to keep young players motivated carrots, I suspect an approach to keeping veterans motivated is to not let them get demotivated: don’t start things off by making them feel like they’re the afterthought from day one.

I can’t speak to how they’re perceiving their career twilight and role with the Isles, but Chimera is coming off of two 20-goal seasons, while Seidenberg logged a ton (too many, you’d rightly say) of minutes last season. For future scratches, the Isles will want them feeling like they are valued from the start and getting in-season rest, rather than last resorts who ride out the final year of their respective contracts like some such Brian Rolston.

Recall that as last season wound down, Seidenberg and even Thomas Hickey saw multiple scratches in favor of youth. They may get the veteran nod, at least to start off.


That’s how I suspect some of the thinking is working, anyway, based on years of seeing similar decisions from many teams and esteemed coaches.

While it activates our PTSD about how the Islanders have often been run, including under superstitious Jack Capuano, I retain hope that Weight won’t be as static in his lineups.

I’m a huge believer in Ho-Sang, but ever since the roster crystallized it’s been clear there would be tough decisions on the middle six wings every night, given the promise of Ho-Sang and Beauvillier and the team’s respect for Chimera and his performance last year.

So I think any combo of the top 13 forwards will be strong, thus I’m actually more troubled by the blueline decisions. Seidenberg and whoever pairs with Thomas Hickey on the third pairing are likely to be on-going vulnerabilities and that has to be figured out this season.

The Islanders took a calculated risk trading Travis Hamonic this summer, having belief -- and seeing the expiration of waiver exemption — in Pulock, Pelech and opening night lineup member Scott Mayfield. Each brings something different but imperfect to the table. Pulock loses some of his implied value with the Isles starting the season with Nick Leddy and Mathew Barzal manning the points on the first power play unit, but it still feels like the modern game would favor Pulock securing a regular spot.

Then again, waivers plays a role in all of this. After seeing the 23-man opening roster and sighing with relief, I can’t be bothered to agonize over the opening night lineup. But maybe those three are all in a battle to figure out who survives to help keep a spot warm for Devon Toews.