CHICAGO - The Islanders face the defending Stanley Cup champions Friday nightwith a problem: Who comes out of the lineup now that Cal Clutterbuck is ready to go in?
It's a good problem to have, with just about all of the four forward lines that played in the Islanders' first three games having had solid moments. Clutterbuck, out since the first preseason game on Sept. 17 with a deep skate cut to his right thigh, has been skating with the team in practice for more than a week and was activated off injured reserve on Wednesday.
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The roster move was easy: Griffin Reinhart needed to go back to the Western League and play. But the lineup move won't be so easy.
"All our guys are on notice every game," Jack Capuano said just before the Islanders headed here for the game against the Blackhawks. "Everyone has to be accountable for us to be the kind of team we want to be. We've got veterans like Bolts [Eric Boulton] and Carks [Matt Carkner] who want a shot to get in there, too. We have some decisions to make every time we play, game to game."
Clutterbuck had been rotating in on the right side of the Brock Nelson-Peter Regin-Pierre-Marc Bouchard line this week, and it would appear that either Nelson or Bouchard will sit Friday night. Nelson has been effective in the first three regular-season games of his career but his effectiveness has decreased a bit each night, and Bouchard only really fired up his play in Tuesday's 6-1 win over the Coyotes, when the entire line had its best game.
Clutterbuck offers a different dimension than either Nelson or Bouchard, and Clutterbuck had been working on a line with Regin since camp began.
"We didn't have much time with him, but we certainly know what he brings to the table," Capuano said of Clutterbuck, who was acquired in June from the Wild for Nino Niederreiter. "He's a gritty guy, he kills penalties, he brings a lot of energy out there."
The Islanders have been far from perfect in their 2-0-1 start. They were all-around shaky in the opener against the Devils last week, let a late lead slip in the home opener against Columbus and were outmuscled at times by Phoenix but got terrific goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov and a few fortunate bounces to pile up six goals.
So it's not as if changes aren't warranted. But unlike years gone by, the Islanders don't need to decide whether to bench a slumping player. There's a real competition for spots, which is what Capuano and general manager Garth Snow have long envisioned.
Notes & quotes: Nabokov likely will get the start Friday night and Kevin Poulin likely will make his season debut Saturday night in Nashville.