As the New York Islanders prepare in Anaheim, California for three games in four nights, head coach Barry Trotz has mixed things up to keep everyone fresh.
We’re two weeks into the 2018-19 NHL season and the New York Islanders have only played four games (2-2-0). But starting Wednesday night, the Islanders will be put to the test with three games in four nights on a California road trip.
The Islanders have been in California practicing since Sunday so hopefully, the team has adjusted to the time zone difference (minus-three hours) and has made it a non-factor.
However, three games in four nights are three games in four nights no matter where they are being placed. And with that, head coach Barry Trotz has mixed up the lines in practice looking to spark some slow starters and to keep everyone fresh.
The line changes have impacted all but one line and are similar to the ones that finished up the game in Nashville on Saturday.
Top-Six Remains Intact (Mostly)
Perhaps the most eye-opening change is that Anthony Beauvillier has been dropped from the top line. Beauvillier struggled to start the 2017-18 season but when recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in January for an injured Andrew Ladd, Beauvillier went on a scoring spree and finished the year with 21 goals.
Now things have come full circle as Ladd, for now, has beaten out Beauvillier for a spot alongside Mathew Barzal. Ladd missed most of training camp, all of the preseason, and the first three games of the season with an undisclosed injury but was activated off the injured reserve in time for Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Predators.
Ladd started the game on the third line but down 3-0, Trotz shuffled the lines and gave Ladd an opportunity on the top line. Ladd scored shortly after on a nice pass from Barzal behind the goal.
Beauvillier, on the contrary, has no points in four games to start the season and has a minus-four rating.
The second line, centered by Brock Nelson with Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle on the wings, has worked well through the opening four games of the season and will be the only line staying together after Saturday’s loss.
With the second line staying intact, Beauvillier will drop down to the third line which is centered by Valtteri Filppula. Filppula, who signed a one-year deal with the Isles this summer, has started his tenure in New York on the right foot with three points (two goals, one assist) in four games.
Cal Clutterbuck will also join the third line, getting promoted from the fourth line midway through Saturday’s game. The 31-year-old has no points in four games and is also expected to see time on the team’s second power-play unit.
Casey Cizikas, placed on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 8, missed last game with a lower-body injury. Based on practice, it appears that Cizikas, after missing only one game, is ready to return to the lineup but he will have two new wingers beside him.
To his left, Ross Johnston is expected to enter the lineup for his season debut. Johnston signed a four-year contract extension this summer but has been a healthy scratch for the first four games of the season. Look for the 24-year-old to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup.
Leo Komarov, with one assist in his first four games as an Islander, has been dropped down to the fourth line. To his credit, he has been a great asset on the penalty-kill but nonetheless, Komarov being demoted to the fourth line is not what you want to see. Especially since this is only year one of a four-year deal signed this past summer.
Matt Martin and Tom Kühnhackl skated on the fifth line in practice Tuesday which usually indicates that they will be healthy scratches for Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Stephen Gionta centered the two but he will be re-assigned to Bridgeport once Cizikas is activated off the injured reserve.
Martin has a goal through four games this season and, Kühnhackl, in his one game, played well but was held off the scoresheet.
New Looks on Defense
Despite both being offensive-minded players, Leddy and Pulock have had slow starts to the season. Pulock had a secondary assist in the team’s opening game but other than that, the two have been held off the scoresheet. Perhaps putting the two together can get both, or at least one of them going.
Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield will make up the second pairing while Luca Sbisa, after being a healthy scratch in the last two games, draws back into the lineup to anchor the third pairing with Johnny Boychuk. Adam Pelech appears to be the odd man out.
Trotz has confirmed that with the team playing on both Wednesday and Thursday night (Los Angeles Kings), Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss will each get a start. My guess is that whoever plays better will get the start on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks.
Each goaltender has gotten two starts this season. Both played extremely well in the first (45 saves on 46 shots for Greiss, a 35-save shutout for Lehner) but only decent in their second (19 saves on 23 shots for Greiss, 24 saves on 28 shots for Lehner).