The New York Islanders did not hold a morning skate on Friday ahead of their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. At practice on Thursday, the Islanders showed themselves like this, with Jean-Gabriel Pageau on Injured Reserve:
Anders Lee-Bo Horvat-Mathew Barzal
Zach Parise-Brock Nelson-Kyle Palmieri
Josh Bailey-Casey Cizikas-Simon Holmstrom
Matt Martin-Andy Andreoff-Hudson Fasching
It’s likely, given how critical this game is against the Penguins and the games to follow, that Lane Lambert is going to use his top players as much as possible, like we saw in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Lambert took three of his forwards out of the rotation in the third period.
Josh Bailey was benched with 10:10 to go in the third. Otto Koivula, who is now in Bridgeport, sat out the final 22:13 of the game. And Simon Holmstrom did not touch the ice after leaving it with 5:15 to go in the third.
Essentially, when the game was on the line, Lambert ran nine forwards and six defenseman.
So that begs the question, down Pageau, should the Islanders use 11 forwards and seven defenseman against the Penguins?
Now, understandably so, Lambert could keep Andy Andreoff in the mix and then, when the game gets down to the nitty-gritty, take him or others not performing out of the rotation.
Why start with less forwards?
The problem isn’t shortening the bench in the third period. It’s the “why” factor.
If Bailey had played better, he wouldn’t have been taken out of the rotation.
Although he wasn’t on the ice for a goal against in that game, he had 10 giveaways over his previous three games and hasn’t been helping the offense or the defense.
That’s why in crunch time, Lambert didn’t put him on the ice.
The same thing goes for Otto Koivula, as if he was helping, he would have played.
With a need for offense, that’s also why Holmstrom was taken out of the rotation, as at this point in his young career, he’s more of a defensive forward, and Lambert was going for the win.
And that was against the Senators, making a win against the Penguins even more critical than before.
Lambert is going to need his best players playing anyway, so why not.
The caveat to running 11 forwards Friday night is that the Islanders play again Saturday night, an earlier start at 5 PM against the Bruins up in Boston.
As much as Lambert is a “one game at a time” coach, he needs to ensure he isn’t hurting his team’s chances against the NHL’s best.
But, again, the focus is on Pittsburgh.
The Islanders backend has not been particularly great over their last three games, showing a bit better against the Senators compared to what we saw against the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks.
The Penguins are averaging 3.23 goals per game and are ninth in the NHL with 33.2 shots per game.
With Parker Wotherspoon just sitting as a healthy scratch for the last nine games, why not let him play when other members of the backend need breathers, whether it be right after special teams or elongated shifts?
The Penguins currently hold the top wild-card spot in the East, with 63 points in 53 games. The Islanders trail them by two points and have played four more games. These head-to-head matchup are critical, and if the Islanders want to make the postseason, getting points against the Penguins down the stretch here is vital.
While Lane Lambert is likely to go with the traditional lineup, don’t be shocked to see the New York Islanders top two forward lines play the majority of the game, along with the bench being shortened if the game is a close one.