The best that can be said about the New York Islanders’ approach to tonight’s must-win game against the NHL’s worst team is that they are hoping veterans who stick to structure will help them win through simplification and discipline.
With Casey Cizikas already out, the Islanders were thin at center. With Derrick Brassard — who hasn’t proven to be an ideal center anyway — now also out, the Islanders were desperate at that position. Instead of trying Leo Komarov there again, they at least appear to be moving him back to wing, where his general ineffectiveness is less damaging.
But there were some surprises as the team took the ice for morning skate today:
- Otto Koivula was recalled from Bridgeport, and it appears he’ll take one spot in the pivot.
- Andrew Ladd was also recalled, and he looks set to join Michael Dal Colle as wings for Josh Bailey, who’s forced back into his less-productive position thanks to the center injuries.
- As part of the recalls, and even though the team has scored just two goals in its last four games, Kieffer Bellows was returned to Bridgeport.
- Oh, and Komarov is going to line up next to Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier.
#Isles at morning skate— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) February 21, 2020
Extra F: Johnston
Extra D: Dobson
Not skating: Brassard
It will be interesting to see how much that fourth line is used tonight. Barry Trotz prefers to be able to spread the ice time — especially with the schedule having them playing almost every other day from here to season’s end — and give everyone a role, etc.
But it’s asking a lot of Koivula, considering Cizikas has been the only guy to really be able to make any line with Martin, Kuhnhackl or Komarov tick.
Not that Trotz has a lot of choices in the matter. Despite the impressive disciplined structure, adherence to roles and all that veteran savvy that the Lamoriello-Trotz regime has preached since arriving, the flip side and weakness of that approach is their overflowing collection of bottom-six — or worse — forwards like Martin, Kuhnhackl, Komarov, Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck, Ross Johnston and Michael Dal Colle.
With a handful of injuries, that weakness is exposed right now, and at a bad time as a four-game slide has dropped them back out of playoff position. Most of these guys “know the league” and can still put in a good performance on their best days. But “peak performance,” by definition, cannot be an everyday expectation.
Brassard is “day to day,” so perhaps this makeshift approach gets them through this weekend, with two non-playoff teams coming in and the trade deadline approaching. But next week features their city rivals followed by meetings with both of last year’s Cup finalists. More changes will be needed soon.