Isles' lineup shuffle a product of bumps, bruises, compressed schedule
Injuries are inevitable in the NHL.
Particularly more so when the intense schedule gets even more condensed than usual.
So, yes, Islanders coach Barry Trotz is expecting to look at different lineup options over the rest of this season with the team almost certainly missing the playoffs for the first time since 2018. But any roster experimentation will not necessarily be an advance look for next season.
The Islanders (27-25-9) conclude a two-game homestand against the Red Wings on Thursday night. They sit 17 points behind the Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot, albeit having played four fewer games.
But they play their final 21 games over just 37 days, a grueling pace that will surely wear down bodies. Physical fourth-liner Cal Clutterbuck has missed the last two games for maintenance and while the Islanders are on a 6-1-1 run, coach Barry Trotz acknowledged his exhausted team just had “no juice” in Sunday’s 2-1 loss in Philadelphia.
The team did not practice on Wednesday, a common occurrence on non-game days. Morning skates on game days are almost always optional.
“There will be opportunities to experiment a little bit just because there are going to be guys that are going to get banged up,” Trotz said. “We’re playing good teams. We’re playing a lot of games. Guys are going to get banged up. Like Clutter. Clutter’s a little bit banged up. When he gets healthy, he’ll come in, someone will come out or someone will be banged up and someone else will go in.
“So I’m not going to try to on purpose experiment right off the bat because I think the schedule and the number of games are going to force me to experiment.”
The Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport still has a chance to make the playoffs so the organization is not likely to recall some of that club’s better prospects for a late-season NHL look unless eliminated or necessitated by injury.
The NHL no longer has a roster limit following Monday’s trade deadline, but teams are limited to four call-ups the rest of the season, other than emergency call-ups.
Also, the Islanders have not waved a white flag on their season, though they understand the statistical miracle it would take for them to qualify for the playoffs.
“The goal is to win as many games as we can,” Trotz said. “Just be consistent in our game. Understand who we are. It will be a challenge because of the compressed schedule. I’m telling you right now, on Sunday the guys wanted to play a heavier game but there wasn’t enough juice to get there.”
“We believe in this group and what we’re capable of,” captain Anders Lee said after Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Senators. “You hear us talking about these last few weeks that, regardless of where we’re at, we’re building this team up as much as possible and working toward our final goal and we’re going to continue to do that.”