Missing out on one preseason game is not likely to alter coach Barry Trotz’s plans on a starting lineup for the Islanders’ season opener on Oct. 14 at Carolina. The top 12 forwards and top six defensemen have seemingly long been set and goalie Ilya Sorokin will get the bulk of the work until Semyon Varlamov is healthy.
But Thursday night’s cancellation of their game against the Devils at Prudential Center because of a power outage in the arena might impact the decision-making for the extra roster spots. That is an inconvenience given how depth will be crucial through an 82-game season.
The Islanders host the Rangers on Saturday night in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Trotz had said previously he planned to play about 90% of his opening-night starting lineup in the preseason finale. So, some of those players on the roster bubble will miss out on a chance to sway the opinion of Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
The team was off on Friday and Trotz was not made available to the media following Thursday night’s cancellation.
There’s been a tight training camp battle for the extra forward spots, and no indication of whether the Islanders will carry 14 forwards and seven defensemen or 13 forwards and eight defensemen as they embark upon a season-opening, 13-game road trip.
Kieffer Bellows, Anatoli Golyshev, Ross Johnston, Leo Komarov and Richard Panik are vying for a roster spot, and that assumes Trotz is counting Oliver Wahlstrom among the top 12 despite a shaky training camp. Wahlstrom is the only one among those players who does not require waivers to be reassigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
Golyshev, who might be able to return to the KHL if he does not make the Islanders’ roster, Panik, Wahlstrom and Johnston were all slated to be in Thursday’s lineup.
Fourth-line left wing Matt Martin (ankle) has yet to play in the preseason and might not be ready for the season opener, only heightening the importance of Trotz taking a final look at some of the replacement candidates. But Trotz has said Martin was getting "pretty close" and didn’t necessarily need to play in the preseason.
Bellows, who could be very attractive to another organization if exposed to waivers, Golyshev and Panik have higher upsides in terms of offensive production. Johnston and Komarov are veterans that Trotz trusts highly.
Defensively, Thomas Hickey, Sebastian Aho, prospect Robin Salo and the well-traveled Erik Gustafsson, in training camp on a professional tryout offer, are jockeying to make the team as extras.
Among that group, only Gustafsson, who has had two two-assist efforts in three preseason games, was slated to play on Thursday. That could either indicate Gustafsson has the lead in that positional battle or that the Islanders’ brass wanted to get one last look at him before making a final decision on whether to offer him a contract.
So how Trotz fills out his lineup card on Saturday night should offer some insight into his thinking on the opening night roster.