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Wahlstrom or Zajac? Tough Question Ahead for Islanders Barry Trotz

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Oliver Wahlstrom and Travis Zajac

To change or not to change, that is the question facing New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz about whether or not to put Oliver Wahlstrom back in the lineup or keep the versatile Travis Zajac in.

A goal scorer or steady faceoff man? The young gun or the steady veteran? From the sounds of it, Trotz seems to be leaning one way, but the Islanders coach confirmed on Monday that Wahlstrom could play if they needed him.

[Click here for complete Stanley Cup Playoff coverage of the New York Islanders]

Oliver Wahlstrom skated in warmups in Game 1, which had been the first time he had done so since leaving Game 5 of the First Round with an injury. Before that, Wahlstrom had quickly become a presence on the ice during the playoffs with a goal and three points through the first five games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He also registered 11 shots on net and averaged 14:11 of ice time n that span.

Since then Zajac has proven his value alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri in Wahlstrom’s absence. Zajac scored his first playoff goal as an Islanders in Game 6 against Boston and he has gone 7-for-14 in the faceoff circle when he’s been called upon.

“With Zajac, he gives us a little bit more flexibility in the faceoff circle and obviously a little bit more of a checking role,” Trotz said on Monday after practice. “That’s the biggest thing probably, and experience. It’s working right now so maybe you don’t have to fix it right now.”

So for now it would appear that Zajac is holding onto his spot in the Islanders lineup where Oliver Wahlstrom once was. While it’s a move that won’t please everyone, with the way the team has played the decision not to change anything would make the most sense.

The Islanders have closed out two series against teams that have been heavily favored over them and Zajac has managed to play an important role in that. Against Boston, it was his line of Pageau and Palmieri that helped shut down Boston’s
“perfection line” through the six-game battle.

Zajac arrived on Long Island and found himself in a tough spot. He got some playing time, but spent a lot of his first few months with the Islanders watching the game instead of playing.

“You want to come, and you want to try and contribute any way possible,” Zajac said recently. “It’s a great group, and it’s fun to be a part of.”

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For now, the spot is Zajac’s, but if things in the series start to tilt the other way Trotz didn’t close the door on making a change to his lineup.

“As the series goes on that may change,” Trotz said.  “We won Game 1. Things could change after tomorrow, they could change tomorrow, but I think we’ve found some stability and some clarity for every line. Right now we don’t have to do anything. … That’s the big thing I feel very comfortable with the lines as they are.”

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