Barry Trotz put off the decision, at least for now.
The Islanders coach had right wing Jordan Eberle available for Saturday’s matinee against the Panthers at Barclays Center after he had missed 10 games with a lower-body issue. So, Trotz inserted Eberle right back into his usual spot on Mathew Barzal’s top line along with captain Anders Lee.
Yet, Trotz also kept natural center Derick Brassard on Brock Nelson’s right wing, where he’s thrived offensively rather than immediately move him back into the middle. Brassard struggled as the third-line center at the start of the season as he tried to balance his defensive responsibilities within the team’s system and his offensive instincts.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Trotz said about the difficulty of his ultimate decision. “Brass has played well there. The great thing is, he can play different positions as well. That may be the case.”
Trotz accommodated keeping Brassard on right wing by using Josh Bailey, who had been playing on Barzal’s right wing with Eberle out, on Casey Cizikas’ left wing on the team’s identity line with Cal Clutterbuck.
But versatile forward Leo Komarov, who had been used as a center before his extended absence because of a combination of illness and neck soreness, is also on the verge of returning. And left wing Matt Martin, whose usual spot is on Cizikas’ left wing, is also prepping for his return.
That must all be accounted for as Trotz decides where it’s best to play Brassard in the long term.
Brassard had a career-high five game goal streak snapped in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over the Senators at Barclays Center, coinciding with his first five games on Nelson’s line.
“The biggest thing with him moving to the wing is I think he’s a responsible person, he understands how we play,” Trotz said. “I think he was making sure he was sound defensively. Maybe that natural offensive instinct that he has, I wouldn’t say was stifled, but maybe he was thinking, ‘I’m just going to do the right plays.’”
Brassard, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal after bouncing between the Penguins, Panthers and Avalanche last season, doesn’t discount that he is playing a freer game on the wing in terms of letting his instincts take over.
But all he wanted when joining the Islanders was a steady role after struggling through a disjointed last season. He believes he’s found it regardless of whether he’s at center or right wing.
“I never really doubted myself,” Brassard said. “I came here having the opportunity to be successful and I think what makes a really good fit for me is we’re using everyone. Everyone is important to the team. Everyone has a role and that’s a great feeling to be around.”
Comparing the ice
Heard in the Islanders’ room as to the difference between the ice quality at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center: The Coliseum ice tends to be sticky at the beginning of the game and improve over the three periods. In Brooklyn, the ice quality is better at the start and worsens over the length of the game.
Boychuk dubs thee
There was confusion on the Islanders’ bench. Too often as the coaches called out the line changes, Barzal’s nickname, “Barzy,” was getting confused with Cole Bardreau’s “Bardy.”
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk finally ended the confusion shortly before Bardreau scored his first NHL goal on a penalty shot on Tuesday. Boychuk told Bardreau his new nickname was “Tuna.”
No real reason, much the same way John Belushi’s “Bluto” character in “Animal House” dubbed Stephen Furst’s character, “Flounder.”
Picked from the pod
Gritty right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who scored his first goal of the season in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over the visiting Senators after playing in his 800th NHL game in a 1-0 win at Buffalo on Nov. 2, was the guest on Episode 6 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders’ podcast.
Among the topics covered were Clutterbuck’s impressions on the Islanders’ start to the season, how he’s adjusted to not playing consistently with longtime linemates Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, how he developed his agitating playing style and his impressions when he first came to the Islanders from the Wild.
Also, Clutterbuck explained what makes this team so tight knit and how he tries to help the younger players as a veteran.
“This is not a group like I’ve had before and you don’t really know until you’re a part of one,” Clutterbuck said. “You watch these guys come into their own and it teaches you a lot about being an older guy and what our role as older guys should be in their lives. I think there’s a genuine interest between the older guys and the younger guys, just to make sure that everyone is taken care of. When there’s a genuine care from both sides to make each other better, I think it’s just fun.”
Back and forth
Goalies Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss have alternated starts since the start of the season. Per the NHL, only two other teams in league history have had goalies alternate starts during a winning streak of 10 games or more:
1970-71 – Boston Bruins 10-0-0: Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers
1983-84 – Buffalo Sabres 10-0-0: Bob Sauve and Tom Barrasso