Veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky took a solid hit in the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night and staggered to the bench in obvious pain. He was helped from the ice and did not return to the game, and was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion. The Islanders gamely pressed on with five defensemen and gave a good account of themselves but were ultimately edged 4-3 on the scoreboard.
The underlying implications of Visnovsky’s injury extend well beyond the loss of one game. While it undoubtedly didn’t help the Isles’ cause to play most of the game down one D-man, it certainly wasn’t the sole cause of the loss. But Visnovsky’s health and ability to play going forward could send a ripple throughout the organization.
A concussion can be a tricky injury. The medical community still isn’t entirely sure of the full scope of long-range effects – which seem to vary depending on the severity – and there is rarely a clear timetable for recovery. Add to that the fact Visnovsky is 37, and the waters grow even muddier. Even without the injury, twelve years of wear and tear on his undersized frame are starting to take their toll. How much longer he can be expected to perform at the level he has since his arrival on the Island was already a question mark for the team.
So while Visnovsky recovers, who fills his skates? Matt Carkner has been used sporadically in a part-time role, probably the best scenario for him. 37-year-old Radek Martinek has been practicing with the team, and it has been suggested they may sign him to a contract. Martinek, of course, has plenty of history with the club, and spent some time in training camp on a tryout deal. But the club cut him loose after eleven days, presumably closing the door on that chapter.
While not necessarily a weak spot, the defense corps is nowhere near as strong as the current crop of forwards, of that there is little debate. In terms of shut-down ability, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic are superb, and Brian Strait is making steady strides forward. But as far as puck-moving, power play anchors go, nobody has as yet emerged to the forefront. Martinek, while unquestionably more notable for his offensive contributions than his attention to defense, never really emerged as a top-four defender (though he was often thrust into the role over the years, out of necessity).
At this point, with Visnovsky’s immediate future uncertain, it might be an opportunity to give rookie Matt Donovan a push. Some more key minutes, a chance to work with and learn from the vets, and possibly play his way into a starting role. With all due respect to Martinek and his contribution to the team spanning ten seasons, a stopgap solution could derail a golden opportunity for forward momentum.