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Time for kids to sink or swim
Islanders coach Ted Nolan had to smile today when he was asked about the way Pittsburgh has compensated for the loss of injured superstar Sidney Crosby. It must be nice, Nolan suggested, for the Penguins to have another budding star in Evgeni Malkin to plug into that scoring and leadership role.
We havent got that type of team, Nolan said. We have a team that has relied on effort from everybody.
With Miroslav Satan and Mike Sillinger out with injuries against the Penguins tonight at Mellon Arena, Nolan has no proven substitute for their talent and experience. But the Islanders coach sounded genuinely excited about the opportunity to experiment with Bridgeport products Blake Comeau, Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen as his second scoring line even if it was forced on him by the circumstances.
Asked if the kids finally would get some serious ice time, as well as power-play time, Nolan said, No question about it. As far as looking forward to a hockey game, you look forward to see how that line reacts. Theyve got some speed, and theyve got some hockey ability. The only thing theyre lacking is experience, and theres no better way to get experience than to throw them right into the fire and let them sink or swim.
Tambellini has been up here a number of times now, so, its not new to him. Frans Nielsen, its exciting for him to get another opportunity. Comeau has been here. Its not like were throwing three kids out of junior hockey into the National Hockey League. These guys have a little bit of experience, and now theyve got to seize the moment.
Jeremy Colliton is another callup from Bridgeport who will be in the lineup as a checking center. But Nolan indicated Colliton will be restricted to more of a fourth-line role. Sillinger led the checking line the past two seasons, but his frequent linemates Trent Hunter and Andy Hilbert will be with center Josef Vasicek. Of course, its tougher to match lines on the road when the home team has the last change, but Nolan said he no longer has a checking line as such. Top line center Mike Comrie, Nielsen and Vasicek all could be called upon to face the opponents top line.
Whoever is out has to be aware defensively because we havent got that one big shutdown line, Nolan said. With the situation we have right now, were going to be putting Comrie in more of a position to play against top lines than previously when we had a checking line. Its just because of his experience and circumstances. This is what we have.
Tambellini and Nielsen were brought up to play together, as they did so well for the Sound Tigers this season, but they only were on the ice together in the third period against Anaheim on Tuesday night. Things will be much different tonight, and theyll have the benefit of playing with Comeau, who has earned respect for his strong play on the puck and for his hockey sense since his callup.
Captain Bill Guerin suggested after the loss to the Ducks that Comeau has been the Isles best player for the last two weeks, and Nolan didnt disagree. Guerin said the Islanders need a dose of youthful enthusiasm and added, Like it or not, theyre a big part of our team now. No growing pains. Theyve all been around before. They know what theyre doing.
ISLES FILES: Satan accompanied the Islanders on this two-game road trip that continues Saturday in Minnesota. He acknowledged that he has a sprained right knee with partially torn ligaments. When he suffered the injury on Jan. 8 in Vancouver, he was told it was a six-to-eight-week injury. After missing one game at Calgary, Satan relied on pain pills to play the next 11 straight.
Tonights game is only the second hes missed since being hurt, and he doesnt plan on staying out long. I didnt really want to take time off, but I was kind of convinced, Satan said with a smile. Well see how I feel day by day. I expect to be back soon. I dont want to say any number, but I seriously expect to be back shortly.
FRIDAYS INSIDER: Before noon on Friday, Islanders Insider will be posted online at Newsday.com. It will feature a look at Mike Comries season and his thoughts on the Feb. 26 trade deadline and a look back at the Sean Hill suspension for Game 5 of the Isles first-round playoff loss to Buffalo last spring because of performance-enhancing substances. Hill signed with the Wild, and while he hasn't played since Jan. 11, he will see his former teammates for the first time since then on Saturday.