Anthony Beauvillier noticed his own absence.
He and Islanders teammate Mathew Barzal have a long-held routine in pregame warm-ups, rapidly passing the puck to each other on the blue line as they skate closer and closer, then slaloming through a row of pucks, Barzal always first, then Beauvillier.
But Barzal skated through the pucks alone with Beauvillier missing nine games because of a lower-body injury. It was Beauvillier’s first lengthy absence in his five NHL seasons, but he was back in the lineup for a second straight game as the Islanders opened a two-game series against the Penguins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
"It’s kind of funny you ask, the last few games I was closer to returning I was picturing myself in warm-ups and what I would do with that time," Beauvillier said before Thursday’s game in his first public comments since his return. "I was looking at Barzy doing that thing and picturing myself behind him. It’s good to be actually doing it."
Beauvillier logged 16:31 with one shot in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Sabres as the Islanders swept a two-game series in Buffalo and extended their points streak to eight games (5-0-3).
Beauvillier’s return adds more speed to the Islanders’ lineup and, potentially, more offensive production, though he had just one assist in his first six games. Coach Barry Trotz also relies on Beauvillier for the penalty kill.
The left wing started Tuesday’s game on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s third line along with rookie Oliver Wahlstrom. Beauvillier was on Brock Nelson’s second line with Josh Bailey before getting hurt.
That was the team’s most effective trio in their postseason run, with Beauvillier notching nine goals and five assists in 22 games as the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993. But Trotz has since flip-flopped Bailey onto Barzal’s top line with captain Anders Lee while Jordan Eberle is now on Nelson’s right wing.
"They’re both really good players," Beauvillier said of Nelson and Pageau. "I like playing with both. They’re both predictable when they’re on the ice. Always on the right side of pucks and obviously a lot of skill. Playing with either of these guys, I’m happy."
Beauvillier had previously skated with Pageau, acquired from the Senators at last season’s trade deadline. But Tuesday was Beauvillier’s first chance to be on a line with Wahlstrom.
"I really liked his game," Beauvillier said. "He’s been doing well lately, works hard and wants to shoot the puck. Heavy body so I really liked playing with them."
Trotz said Beauvillier’s return was delayed until Tuesday so he wouldn’t have to play back-to-back games immediately. The Islanders beat the Sabres, 3-1, on Monday night.
"I think he’ll settle in," Trotz said. "It’s four-point games [against the Penguins]. It should be a playoff sort of game for both teams. We’re motivated, they beat us last time."
The Islanders and Penguins are meeting six times in February, with Thursday and Saturday nights being the only two in Pittsburgh.
The Islanders won, 4-3, at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 6 and then lost a 4-3 shootout to the visiting Penguins five nights later.
Beauvillier was out for both of those and missing nine games in a shortened, 56-game season — one-sixth of the season — was a significant chunk. Beauvillier missed just one game the past two seasons and the fewest games he’s played was 66 as a rookie.
"I felt like it’d been months since I’d played," Beauvillier said. "It was good to finally get back with the guys. I felt pretty good, actually, so I was happy with my game."