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New York Islanders

Islanders Losing Forces Lambert To Shake Up Lines As Much As Injuries



AP Photo/Matt Freed

East Meadow, NY– New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has had the fortune of being able to roll out four stable forward lines for the majority of this season.

Outside of the not-unusual healthy scratch every so often, he hasn’t made a change of significant proportions. That was until the Islanders announced Casey Cizikas would be out week-to-week with a lower-body injury ahead of their meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

“He’s a big part of the group,” Lambert said. “His motor is always running. Guys are going to have to replace him somehow. Certainly, we have the ability to do that.”

The most significant change to the lineup came with the breakup of the top line. Mathew Barzal will come off the wing of Bo Horvat and Anders Lee and have Oliver Wahlstrom play in his place.

Meanwhile, Barzal will move to center and fill the hole left by Cizikas. Although it’s his natural position, Barzal hasn’t played down the middle much since the Islanders traded for Horvat last season.

“As much as I’ve been on the wing, I feel like me and Bo have been a little bit interchangeable at times,” Barzal said. “Except for the faceoffs. That might be the one thing I am a little bit rusty at. Not that I’ve been superb at it in my career, but it takes a minute to get that timing down.”

The shift of Barzal back to center had a domino on the rest of the lineup, as Jean-Gabriel Pageau will drop into Cizikas’ usual spot.

However, while  Cizikas’ injury surely forced Lambert’s hand into shaking up the lines, it was already made necessary by the Islanders’ play of late. In their last seven games, they’re 2-4-1 and have allowed an average of 4.42 goals against during that stretch.

“I don’t think we’ve played very well lately,” Lambert said. “We could have just moved one person with Cizikas being out, but we moved a bunch of people. We’ve got to be better.”

In an effort to turn things around, Lambert put his lines into a blender.

The line of Brock Nelson, Kyle Palmieri and Pierre Engvall, which has been tops in the NHL this season, was taken apart, as Palmieri was placed next to Barzal and Simon Holmstrom. Hudson Fasching will skate with Nelson and Engvall.

“Everyone goes out there and tries to play a similar game and knows what they’re expected to go out and do,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t matter for centers who’s on the wing. You have to go out there and be responsible defensively and produce offensively.”

To say the least, the experiment provides as much intrigue for the players as it does for those watching.

“We’re just kind of going with whatever’s put in front of us,” Horvat said. “These lines are pretty evenly balanced. We’re going to need all four lines going.”

The Islanders play the Maple Leafs tonight at UBS Arena at 7 p.m., where another return of former captain John Tavares will only add to the intrigue.




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