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New York Islanders

Islanders Contingency Plan Without Bo Horvat Is Full Of Questions



AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

Right now, there’s no telling what kind of consequences might stem from the New York Islanders’ overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night after they left a potentially crucial point on the table against a division rival.

One instance from the game that could have a lasting impact, though, is the shot that Bo Horvat blocked off his left leg in the third period.

The blast from Carolina’s Brady Skjei instantly hobbled the Islanders’ first line center and sent him down the tunnel toward the dressing room.

Horvat returned to the Islanders’ bench before the end of the period and played several shifts during overtime but was still limping heavily afterward.

Islanders head coach Lane Lambert had no update on Horvat’s status following the game.

The Islanders are already without top-pairing defenseman Adam Pelech. If Horvat has to miss any amount of time, it would be another key piece on the shelf, as his absence would send ripple effects throughout the Islanders lineup and organization.

Firstly, the Islanders would have to move Horvat’s linemate, Mathew Barzal, off the right wing and over to center.

It would be an easy adjustment for Barzal, as center is his natural position. It’s where he spent much of his career for the Islanders until Horvat arrived last season. However, playing on the wing has helped hide a glaring weakness in Barzal’s game.

Despite his dynamic ability as a puck carrier, Barzal has never been reliable at taking faceoffs. In his eight NHL seasons, Barzal has a faceoff percentage of 42.2% and posted a career-worst 35.5% last year. This season, he’s taken just three draws and has lost all of them.

Meanwhile, Horvat is highly regarded as one of the NHL’s best at taking faceoffs, winning 53.8% of the draws he’s taken in his career.

With Barzal in the middle, you can count on the Islanders’ top line not starting many shifts in the defensive zone.

Even with Barzal moving back to center, there’d still be a vacant spot on the right wing. To fill it, the Islanders have two options in either Oliver Wahlstrom or Julien Gauthier.

Each has seen limited action this year and comes with similar question marks in their game. Both are former first-round draft picks who haven’t managed to live up to their potential, with a lack of goal-scoring being sighted as a major issue.

Wahlstrom was recently made a healthy scratch after failing to record a point in his first five games back from a significant lower-body injury, while Gauthier has dressed just once.

Regardless, whichever one Lambert opts to insert into the lineup will be asked to step up.

Finally, if Horvat is forced to miss a significant amount of time, there’s the matter of who the Islanders call up from AHL Bridgeport to fill the extra roster spot.

Many would probably like to see one of the team’s top prospects get the opportunity. However, it doesn’t make much sense to call up a player like William Dufour or Matthew Maggio if they’re not going to be playing. Instead, Karson Kuhlman is the player most likely to get the call.

As an NHL veteran who has played depth roles for several other teams, the Islanders signed Kuhlman during the offseason for this exact situation. Although, Kuhlman is yet to produce a point through eight games in Bridgeport thus far.

It’s by far a less-than-ideal situation with even less-than-ideal solutions. But it’s one the Islanders may be forced to deal with.