EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Fluid line combinations are more a fact of life in the NHL than shocking revelations, so Lane Lambert altering the Islanders’ trios at Monday’s practice at Toyota Sports Performance Center seemed fairly standard, given the coach’s penchant for in-game changes.
“Today was today and tomorrow’s tomorrow,” Lambert said. “So we’ll see what happens with the line combinations.”
The Islanders will open a three-game California swing on Tuesday night against the Kings at Crypto.com Arena. And Monday’s practice lines could be remade if Jean-Gabriel Pageau (injured reserve, upper body) is able to rejoin the lineup.
Pageau, who has missed 12 games, was absent from Monday’s practice for personal reasons and flew to California later in the day. But Lambert said not practicing Monday would not preclude Pageau from playing on Tuesday.
“He’s still day-to-day, but we’re hopeful,” Lambert said. “He’s been skating a lot. We’re pretty comfortable with the fact that he could come in and play without skating, so it’s not a big deal.”
Still, there were some notable changes Monday, including Lambert reuniting the long-standing fourth line of Casey Cizikas between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, who returned in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the visiting Capitals after missing 20 games with an upper-body injury.
The right wing started Saturday’s game on a makeshift line with Josh Bailey, usually a wing, in the middle and Pierre Engvall on the left.
At Monday’s practice, Bailey skated on top-line center Bo Horvat’s right wing and Engvall centered Hudson Fasching on the right with Simon Holmstrom and Ross Johnston alternating on the left.
Pageau likely would center that line if he returns Tuesday, with Engvall sliding to the left and Holmstrom and Johnston possibly healthy scratches.
Yet Cizikas and Fasching have developed strong chemistry as linemates in Clutterbuck’s absence as they combined for crucial goals in last Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the visiting Sabres and Thursday’s 4-3 overtime victory in Pittsburgh.
The Islanders (34-26-8) open the road trip, which also includes games against the Ducks on Wednesday and the Sharks on Saturday, in the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. They trail the Penguins by two points and have played two extra games. The Panthers are three points behind the Islanders and have played one fewer game.
The Islanders, who are on a 6-2-1 run, fell behind by three goals and lost to the Kings, 3-2, at UBS Arena on Feb. 24.
“[The Kings] did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “I think we’re aware of that and I’m sure we’ll have a good game plan tomorrow and hopefully create some more offense. It’s a big trip. Just focus on the Kings and try and get off to a good start.”
“We weren’t happy with our last game but we’ve been playing a lot of good hockey as of late,” Horvat said. “It’s got to be a one-off for us and we’ve got to get back at it tomorrow night.”