Some more reactions -- mine (knee-jerk) and the players' (post-game) -- from Thursday night in Newark:
For those concerned about the possibility of Ryan Strome being Nino Niederreiter Part II, all you need to see are Strome's quotes from after the game, his best of the preseason.
"My first two games weren't what I wanted them to be, and I had a good talk with the coaches," he said. "You never think you need a talk, but maybe that's what I needed to hear. Not to pump my own tires at all, but I think my last two games were pretty good... Sometimes you forget a little bit what made you successful, what got you to this point and I got a little reminder. I've felt better out there and I think the coaches feel the same way."
For all the hyperventilating on Twitter about Strome possibly not making the opening-night roster, fans need to remember this is a 21-year-old, second-year pro. Nothing is final now. He could start the season with the Isles, go pointless in a dozen straight and be back in Bridgeport.
So even if he were going back, he would never be staying there. Garth Snow and Jack Capuano know Strome is someone who will help the team, even starting the season as a third-line wing. It's important to remember that Capuano always says top-9 rather than top-6, since the Isles view their first three lines in similar ways.
After Tuesday and Thursday night, plus injuries to Michael Grabner and Casey Cizikas, Strome likely will be there a week from Friday in Raleigh.
-- I'm still on the fence about Griffin Reinhart, though Ryan Pulock's lower-body injury certainly alters Reinhart's status. Reinhart was better again Thursday night against the likes of Jaromir Jagr, but he still seems to be thinking too much. To play the way he needs to play, he has to be in motion and reading plays rather than standing and reading.
Pulock has been off the ice for a week now, though he may be back on Friday for some conditioning. I'd guess any sort of setback for a not-yet-20-year-old rookie would mean he'll either be on injured reserve to start the season or be sent down to work his way back with AHL games.
Like Strome, I don't think a demotion means Pulock is out of the NHL picture for very long.
I think Reinhart will get a chance to start the season, given Pulock won't and Calvin de Haan (upper body injury) doesn't seem like he'll be ready in a week. We'll see what happens when everyone's healthy.
-- Have heard from a couple trustworthy folks that Lubomir Visnovsky (back) should be ready for opening night. So that would mean three of the Isles' top four defensemen will be available and it's a matter of plugging the hole de Haan leaves on a pair with Travis Hamonic.
-- Anders Lee is another puzzler. His size, physical play and scoring knack aren't found anywhere in this lineup, but would his skating impede an assignment like the one he began with Thursday night, with the Nielsen-Strome duo? It seems that it's either Lee or Josh Bailey for that role, and there are many, many more factors at play than just, 'Who do you like there?'
Bailey turned 25 on Thursday and he's entering his seventh (seventh!) Isles season. He's certainly aware of the pressure he's under to keep his spot on this team, but it doesn't seem to be having an effect on his game as of now. To waive him (and not have him be claimed) means you're either sending him to the minors and making him an afterthought or at the very least you've given up on him.
For that reason alone, I don't see the Isles shipping Bailey out just yet. But perhaps I'm stuck thinking about this team as it's been the past few years, not how those in charge say it will be this season, with the best 23 players making the opening-night roster.
If that's the case, you would think Lee sticks and starts on that third line.
-- For those concerned about goaltending this preseason, Jaroslav Halak did plenty Thursday night to assuage those fears. It's been quite a while since the Isles had a goaltender who moves as confidently and smoothly in the crease as Halak does (Chad Johnson, who plays Friday in Bridgeport, does that too). Halak made 21 saves and only gave up a power-play goal on a well-screened shot; the Isles' penalty killing needs to improve from the net on out, but Halak was good otherwise in all facets.
-- Friday's preseason finale lineup in Bridgeport will not be a star-studded one. Brock Nelson gets his turn playing with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but I'm guessing the rest of the roster will feature a lot of AHLers with a smattering of NHL experience.
T.J. Brennan should be in, making one last case for being on the opening-night roster. Given Visnovsky's health issues, I think Brennan makes it for sure as the Isles need a shooter on the power-play point.
-- My latest opening-night lineup. See how fluid these things are?
(extras: McDonald, Boulton; IR: Grabner)
(extras: Czuczman; IR: de Haan, Carkner)