Before 2023 came to an end, last night's game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins began with what some viewed as a head-scratching move by New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert, scratching Pierre Engvall from the lineup.
Hudson Fasching was moved up to play alongside Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, while Matt Martin remained in the lineup as the fourth line was reunited as Casey Cizikas returned to the lineup after missing Friday night's 5-1 win over Washington with an illness.
It was the second time this season that Engvall, who the team locked up for the next seven years on Jul. 1st has been a healthy scratch. The first time it followed an egregious and costly turnover in the third period of a loss to the Minnesota Wild. This time, the reasons appear to be more subtle.
"Every night, there's gonna be somebody scratched. We have a number of players here, so if you're the guy who gets scratched, you have to come in and play better next game, said Lambert after the loss. "That's the joy of internal competition."
You want internal competition; it means your roster is healthy and has positional depth. However, for it to come after a bounce-back win was a bit of a surprise. Fasching has been playing well on the fourth line and plays a predictable north/south game, but to insert him into the top-six for a big game against a divisional rival didn't quite feel like the right spot for such a move.
"His biggest asset is his legs, and he uses them to get out of trouble, and I think just a little too often he's been skating the wrong way to get out of trouble, and it sorta slows things down," said MSG Networks analyst Thomas Hickey during the post-game.
"I'm not concerned about him," added Hickey. "I think you're gonna see when he gets back in the lineup that everything gets simplified just a little bit because you understand it's a privilege to play the game. You don't want to be the guy on the outside."
As the Islanders defense gets healthier, similar decisions will need to be made on the blueline. It started last night with Scott Mayfield returning and Robert Bortuzzo being a healthy scratch. If Adam Pelech, who is traveling with the team, is ready to return next week, Lambert will need to decide whether to sit Samuel Bolduc, Mike Reilly or Sebastian Aho for those games.