The next step in Anders Lee’s return from last season’s torn right anterior cruciate ligament is to dress for a preseason game. That might happen when the Islanders face the Flyers on Tuesday night in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
"We felt pretty confident that he was going to play in some games; we just didn’t know how many and we were going to base it off of how he felt during the practices and scrimmages," coach Barry Trotz said after leading two training camp practice groups on Monday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "He feels pretty good, so there’s a good chance he’s going to be in the last three, or two of the last three."
The captain, who suffered his season-ending injury March 11, has participated fully in training camp and in the intrasquad scrimmages but was held out of the Islanders’ first three preseason games. The Islanders also will play the Devils on Thursday at Prudential Center in Newark and will host the Rangers on Saturday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport before opening their season Oct. 14 at Carolina.
Lee will continue to skate with Mathew Barzal and Trotz said he expects to open the season with right wing Kyle Palmieri completing the top-line trio.
Barzal made his preseason debut in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils in Bridgeport, centering Palmieri and Kieffer Bellows, though Oliver Wahlstrom also took some shifts in Palmieri’s spot with Barzal.
"It was the first time in a long time I’ve been the oldest guy on the line," said Barzal, 24, who set up Bellows in the first period for the Islanders’ lone goal.
Still, Barzal said it will be beneficial to reignite his on-ice chemistry with Lee.
"We’ve played the last few years together," Barzal said. "Whether we get one game or three games or whatever, we know each other’s games and strengths. It’s going to be good just to get a game in or two before the season. Hopefully we can transition quick. It’s nice having him back out there, working plays on the power play, getting the puck in low. He’s such a load. It’s going to be nice to have him winning battles for me in the corner."
Notes & quotes: Matt Martin (ankle) joined his teammates for practice and Trotz said he could play in one of the final preseason games: "It’s probably a little more day-to-day. He’s definitely not going to play [Tuesday]. There’s a slight chance for the next game and possible for maybe the Ranger game. If not, I’m not too worried about Matty; he’s a good pro." . . . Goalie Semyon Varlamov (soreness) remains out of practice and is considered day-to-day . . . Trotz declined to respond to accusations by former Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, now with Vegas, that some NHL teams, including some of his former teams, routinely offer benzodiazepines and Ambien to players without prescriptions. "Honestly, I haven’t even read it," Trotz said. "So it would be very dangerous for me to comment on it."