Islanders' playoff push continues with California trip
LOS ANGELES – Calling this a crucial California road trip is redundant because, with 14 games remaining in the regular season and six teams challenging them for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot, every match is critical.
Standings aside, this three-game swing – starting Tuesday night against the Kings at Crypto.com Arena – will be important as the Islanders hope to continue to get healthier, presumably aiding their postseason push. Jean-Gabriel Pageau could join Cal Clutterbuck in rejoining the lineup.
The Islanders, who hold the second wild-card spot, also face the Ducks on Wednesday night and the Sharks on Saturday night. Of the three, only the Kings are in playoff contention.
“(The West Coast trips) are difficult with the travel but everyone deals with it,” Anders Lee said. “We roll in there, we find our legs on Monday and we feel fine. It’s part of the grind. It’s part of the season. It is nice to get out there and play some hockey. See some parts we don’t see a whole lot. I think we’re all looking forward to the trip and having a good one.”
The Islanders (34-26-8), who are still on a 6-2-1 spurt, flew West on Sunday and will practice on Monday. That skate should give a good indication of whether Pageau (injured reserve/upper body) is ready to return. He began practicing with the Islanders on Monday as he’s missed 12 games.
Clutterbuck brought his physical presence back into the lineup for Saturday night’s disappointing 5-1 loss to the Capitals at UBS Arena that snapped a three-game winning streak. Clutterbuck had missed 20 games with an upper-body injury.
“If we’re going to get to where we want to go, we need guys like Clutter, guys like Pager,” Matt Martin said. “So we’re thrilled to have them back.”
Meanwhile, there’s no timetable for Mathew Barzal’s return from a suspected knee injury. Barzal, who has missed nine games, is out week-to-week but it certainly won’t be this week as the top-line playmaker has yet to resume skating. The Islanders are hopeful he can make it back before the end of the season, which concludes on April 12.
“Guys have to step up at key times,” top-line center Bo Horvat said. “Whether it’s (Hudson) Fasching or Zeeker (Casey Cizikas) stepping up the other night (Cizikas set up Fasching’s third-period goal as the Islanders rallied for a 4-3 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Thursday), it’s just everybody contributing.”
Pageau’s return could reduce Horvat’s ice time. He logged a team-high 23:04 against the Capitals, marking the seventh straight game Horvat has had at least 20 minutes of ice time. It’s a lot, given coach Lane Lambert’s preference for rolling four lines.
“There’s a fine line but, at the same time, you want to be out there all the time,” Horvat said. “I’m just trying to fill those minutes and fill that void. I’m sure when he comes back I may have to drop a little bit, which I’m fine with as long as we keep winning games.”