Islanders making line changes to improve at even strength

Winnipeg Jets' Tobias Enstrom and Islanders' Kyle Okposo

Winnipeg Jets' Tobias Enstrom and Islanders' Kyle Okposo battle for the puck during the first period. (Jan. 27, 2013) (Credit: AP)

With the impending return of Josh Bailey and the impending arrival of Lubomir Visnovsky later this week, Jack Capuano has a few roster decisions to make.

In advance of those, Capuano has made a few lineup decisions. The coach swapped Brad Boyes and Kyle Okposo on the right side of the top two lines, hoping for better five-on-five play from his best two trios Tuesday night against the Penguins at the Coliseum.

"We don't have a lot of time [to tinker] with the condensed schedule," Capuano said.

Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Devils was the first game of the Isles' eight this season in which their power play was outscored by the opposing team's power play. The Islanders' special teams indeed have been special. Even with Sunday's 0-for-7 on the power play, the Isles entered Monday night fifth in the NHL, and their penalty kill still was third in the league despite allowing a power-play goal for only the second time this season.

But at even strength, the Isles' forward lines have been outworked at times, especially among the top forwards. Okposo began the season with Matt Moulson and John Tavares; that line has produced some good moments on offense but some equally rough ones in its own zone.

The Michael Grabner-Frans Nielsen-Boyes line similarly had some good games but was a combined minus-12 the last two games against the Devils. Overall, the Isles are minus-6 at even strength this season.

"We've scored one five-on-five goal the last two games, so something's got to change," Okposo said. "I don't look at this as a demotion, but I know I've got to be better and the team's got to be better."

Not that Okposo is in danger of losing a spot in the lineup, but it's a bad time for any key forward to be struggling as Bailey nears a return from knee surgery. He had another full practice with the Islanders Monday, getting some rushes with Moulson and Tavares and also some practice time on the second power-play unit.

Bailey finished last season on a tear, with three goals and 10 assists in his final 11 games. "I feel like I'm getting close," he said after practice.

The Islanders placed defenseman Radek Martinek on injured reserve with an abdominal strain, clearing a roster spot, but Capuano said he doesn't think Bailey will be ready until Thursday at the earliest, and more likely Saturday.

By then, Visnovsky will be an Islander, causing some shuffling on the defense. Capuano had counted on the 36-year-old veteran to take a second-pair defense spot at the start of this season and eat up valuable minutes at even strength and the power play. Instead, Mark Streit (24:55), Travis Hamonic (25:08) and Andrew MacDonald (27:27) have played a heavy load of minutes.

Visnovsky is due to arrive Wednesday, so he might not be ready to jump in Thursday against the Rangers. But when he does play, Brian Strait might drop down to the third defense pair and Thomas Hickey might be the odd man out.

The way to stave off such changes is to simply play better at even strength. Okposo, who has a goal and two assists after failing to score a goal for the first 15 games of last season, isn't dwelling on a slow start as he recognizes the need to pick it up.

"You can't let doubt creep up on you and get in your head," he said. "I know what kind of player I am. I won't let the naysayers tell me otherwise."

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