Brock Nelson's injury could slow Islanders' playoff push
Wednesday was a more of a day of wait-and-see than a day of rest for the surging Islanders.
The severity of top-six center Brock Nelson’s injury, possibly a head injury at that, could have a huge impact on the Islanders’ playoff push. Especially with Mathew Barzal, who has missed 13 games, still out with a suspected knee injury and with no timeline to return as he has not yet resumed skating.
The team did not practice so there was no update on Nelson after he exited Tuesday night’s impressive 7-2 win over the Maple Leafs at UBS Arena in the first period after being crunched into the corner boards by Noel Acciari on an unpenalized hit.
Nelson immediately grabbed his helmet with both hands and remained on his knees for a few seconds before being escorted off the ice and to the Islanders’ room by trainer Damien Hess.
The Islanders visit the Blue Jackets, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, on Friday night before hosting the Sabres on Saturday. The Islanders (37-27-8), who have won three straight, are in the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot.
“You never want to see a guy go down in any form,” Anders Lee said. “It’s just one of those plays, unfortunately, where it’s a bad result. He got roughed up a little bit but I know he’ll be fine. He’ll be good to go. We’ve got a few days here for him to get back and be ready to be at it. But you drop a talent like that, the rest of the team has got to really take a step the rest of the way.”
“It’s a big hole,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “He’s a 200-footer and he’s a momentum changer. He’s got the ability to win you games with big plays. The more of those guys you’ve got, the better.”
Nelson has 30 goals and 35 assists in 72 games for a career-high 65 points and is the first Islander with back-to-back 30-goal seasons since Lee in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Coach Lane Lambert said he didn’t have a chance to talk to or see Nelson immediately after the game before addressing the media.
“There’s no update,” Lambert said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m not really going to comment on what I saw [on the hit].”
Nelson had developed some strong chemistry with wings Kyle Palmieri and Pierre Engvall in the three games they skated together.
If Nelson does miss time, the versatile Engvall could be used as a center with Josh Bailey or Ross Johnston drawing back into the lineup. Recalling centers Otto Koivula or Andy Andreoff or wings Arnaud Durandeau or William Dufour from the AHL affiliate in Bridgeport could also be a possibility, though the Islanders’ brass would likely prefer more experienced players for the playoff push.
“He’s a really big part of the team,” Engvall said. “He’s a leader. The way he plays the game is really important for us. I hope he’s back for the next game.”