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New York Islanders

Islanders Needed Holiday Break, Weathering Injury Storm



New York Islanders (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Instagram)

If any team needed the three-day Christmas break, it was the New York Islanders.

After a lackluster 1-2-2 road trip, which ended in two straight losses and many injuries, the Islanders limped into their final game before the break.

Despite losing another two players in the contest, the Islanders rallied and came away with a statement win, a 5-1 beatdown of the Florida Panthers.

“Well, I mean, it’s huge. You know, especially going in the break,” New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said.  “It’s a situation where you need to get rewarded at some point for your efforts. And I thought our guys did that tonight. So it was important.”

Now with the three-day break, New York can try to get healthier before they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, Dec. 27.

Here’s the latest on the injury front:

    • Kyle Palmieri (upper body) is on IR, retro Dec. 16
    • Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) is on IR, retro Dec. 16
    • Adam Pelech (upper body) is on IR, retro Dec. 6
    • Semyon Varlamov (lower body) is on IR, retro Dec. 17
    • Casey Cizikas (upper body) is day-to-day
    • Brock Nelson (upper body), no update
    • Simon Holmstrom (lower body), no update

Some list, eh?

All the players currently on IR can return for that game against Pittsburgh if they are indeed healthy. 

We know right now that only Kyle Palmieri has been skating, on his own, with the remainder of that list still waiting to hit the ice since their injuries.

Brock Nelson and Simon Holmstrom were both injured in Friday’s win; as mentioned, there is no update on their status.

Nelson took a puck to the head on an Alexander Romanov clearing attempt while Panthers forward Sam Bennett skated right through Holmstrom’s left knee. 

That domination of the Panthers was much needed for New York, as despite being down a tremendous amount of players and then losing another two in the second period, the Islanders snapped their two-game skid.

With a 19-14-2 record, the Islanders find themselves two points back of the Washington Capitals for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

But now the question becomes if the injured players are not ready to return once the break ends and most are out even longer, can the Islanders find a way to weather the injury storm?

Out of all the losses, the biggest one has been the loss to premier defenseman Adam Pelech as Robin Salo struggled to fill in, in his absence. 

Because of his struggles, 25-year-old Parker Wotherspoon was recalled Friday and made his NHL debut after an eight-year wait.

He was stable alongside Ryan Pulock, and that’s what the Islanders need right now as Pelech continues to miss time. Wotherspoon was quick to make plays, showed a strong passing ability, and seemed to be in the proper position all night long. 

Well, first of all, kudos to him. Congratulations to him. ” Lambert said. I thought he was poised. I thought he was good with the puck. He just moved the puck, and I thought he was physical. He’s strong and battles and I thought he played a very good game.”

Wotherspoon likely gets another chance on Tuesday. 

On the forward front, top prospect Aatu Räty made his NHL debut Friday night as well and scored as he put on a show.

He skated in place of Casey Cizikas, whose injury seems minor for now, but as we have seen with the Islanders, day-to-day has turned into an IR stint. 

If Cizikas misses more time than just Friday, it’s likely that Räty will remain at the NHL level and play in his place.

He, Matt Martin, and Hudson Fasching quickly developed some chemistry as they were on the attack most shifts.

If Cizikas can return, but Nelson has to miss any time, one should expect to see Räty skate alongside Anders Lee and Anthony Beauvillier.

A top-six role is what the expectation is for Räty at the NHL level, and the Islanders will need him to step up big if the Islanders’ leading goal-scorer is out.

Despite no update on Nelson’s status, the hope is that it’s just a bad bump and that he has avoided any further head injury. 

Although the losses of Pelech and Nelson are detrimental if the two continue to be out (Pelech likely out long-term), the injury to Holmstrom has the potential to be catastrophic.

Not only has he been a revelation defensively for New York, which has helped with the loss of Pelech, but Holmstrom was also just finding his offensive game. 

He’s been dangerous in the offensive zone, and he was on his way to his second career NHL goal in the second period before his injury–which looked pretty severe.

The Islanders have one extra forward remaining on their roster in Ross Johnston, who has not played since Nov. 29 with the emergence of Hudson Fasching.

The Islanders could use the likes of Palmieri or Clutterbuck back by next week, as the Islanders do not have a plethora of NHL-ready forwards waiting in the minors.

William Dufour, a 20-year-old right winger with a cannon of a shot, is not NHL-ready yet. Ruslan Iskhakov, a 22-year-old centerman, is close to being NHL-ready, but Lambert would need to see if he could play wing.

Also, Iskhakov, despite a solid start to his AHL career, stands at five-foot-nine, 165 pounds.

He took a few big hits during training camp and preseason, leading to an injury, so there is a concern if he can physically hold up at the NHL level.

As mentioned, the Islanders could use some positive news on the injury front when the break ends.

Prospect and fill-ins can only do so much, and up to this point, they have done well, but the Islanders need their big-time players back if they are going to find a way to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race.