TORONTO — Slowly — oh so slowly — the Islanders are getting back the pieces they need; now the question is if it’s enough to save them when they need it the most.
A night after the return of Casey Cizikas — who missed six games with an upper-body injury — Andrew Ladd made his way back onto the ice Wednesday.
The winger, who hasn’t played since Jan. 5 with an upper-body injury, a span of nine games, was slotted into the third line with Jason Chimera and Brock Nelson.
Johnny Boychuk (lower body) is also making progress, coach Doug Weight said earlier this week. Despite the additions, the Islanders have struggled for two straight games — looking fatigued and off-kilter en route to back-to-back losses after the All-Star break.
“I think it fits what we need,” Weight said of Ladd. “Ladder is a gritty, experienced guy that’s played in a lot of these big games and certainly, that’s the time of year it is right now for us. I think he fits a real identity of our team and something that we need. We have two, three high-scoring lines and he’s proven to be able to score as well, but plays real reliable defense and a real simple game and a gritty game so I’m excited to get him back.”
Weight had the option to return Ladd to the second line, but “it wasn’t really a hard decision,” he said. The current second line of Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle has been clicking along, and the trio has scored 14 goals with 20 assists in the last nine games. Alan Quine was the odd man out.
Ladd, Weight said, jibes well with Nelson and played with Chimera for parts of the second half of last season.
“I want to get his feet underneath him,” said Weight. “Hopefully he gives a big boost tonight.”
Ladd was a minus-1 with a shot on goal and four hits.
Weight blamed some of Tuesday’s tepid performance against the Panthers on fatigue (the Islanders lost 4-1), but added that the mistakes they made couldn’t happen at this junction. “I think everybody goes through these frustrations of two steps forward, one step back, or one step forward, one step back, but we’re running out of time here,” he said.
“There are 30 games left. We need to start playing consistent hockey on a consistent basis,” he added. “We get down in games and I think we go right back to that drunkenness we talked about early in the year, this offense. The offense is great, but this is late January. We’ve got to be able to stay the course and play good positional and good emotional hockey throughout 60 minutes.”