Last week, injuries forced the new York Islanders to shuffle their lineup and the results were fantastic. The team skated to four victories in four tries coming off the heels of a stretch where they had lost four out of five games. Colin McDonald and Brian Strait featured in all four of the Isles wins and Harry Zolnierczyk skated with the third line for two victories before being replaced by Cal Clutterbuck.
The Isles are going to need to play their best available lineup this week if they want to replicate their four win week this week. The competition is much better this time around as they will face off against the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators at home and the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals on the road. The Rangers sit only four points behind the Isles in the Metro, the Caps are firmly entrenched in a wild card spot and the Preds are the league’s best team; a far cry from last week’s schedule which featured four of the bottom seven teams in the entire NHL.
All due respect to McDonald, Strait and Harry Z, who all played their respective parts in the success of the team while filling in for some regular contributors, but the Isles will need more than stopgaps to succeed in the coming games. Jack Capuano has always shown a tendency to roll with a lineup that is producing results, something that the current Isles group has done, but considering the quality difference in the opponents this would be a good time to buck that trend.
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Calvin de Haan has been a healthy scratch in all four games since an injury suffered last Saturday against the Boston Bruins, the same game in which Michael Grabner was injured, requiring him to be placed on injured reserve. If either, or both of them are game ready for game action on Monday against the rival Rangers, they should be inserted into the lineup, despite the success of the team without them. Both de Haan and Grabner would be significant upgrades for Strait and McDonald respectively.
Some may be hesitant to swap out McDonald because he has notched three points in four games this week playing on the team’s fourth line, but the Isles trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Clutterbuck playing together is arguably the best fourth line in all of hockey (or of all time if you ask Don Cherry, whose opinion I don’t usually value). Keeping Clutterbuck on the third line, where he doesn’t necessarily mesh with his line-mates to keep McDonald in the lineup doesn’t make much sense to me.
The Isles are blessed with more depth this season than they have had in a long time, which has allowed them to endure the bumps and bruises of a grueling NHL season, but that depth should be used as a crutch, not a solution. When the regulars are ready to return, especially when the schedule reaches a stretch against quality teams and division opponents, they must be put in the lineup, regardless of how well their replacements have fared against lesser teams.