EDMONTON — The answers to the Islanders’ playoff hopes — getting to the postseason first, winning a round for the first time since 1993 second — apparently lie within.
Sources indicated to Newsday on Sunday that general manager Garth Snow still is unwilling to part with the team’s first-round pick in June for a rental forward.
With Monday’s 3 p.m. Eastern time trade deadline approaching and the rival Rangers having completed a deal for Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, there could be some pressure mounting on Snow to upgrade, especially among his forwards. But costs still were too high Sunday for his liking.
So in advance of Sunday night’s game against the 30th-place Oilers — the Islanders’ 40th and final game at Rexall Place (previously Northlands Coliseum) — with the Isles bringing a 7-1-1 streak into the game, there was a hope that a few of their slumping forwards can pick up their game.
Brock Nelson is second on the team with 21 goals but had one in his previous 11 games entering Sunday night. More alarming to coach Jack Capuano was that Nelson had only four shots on goal in the previous four games and only one in Calgary on Thursday night, a game in which Nelson and Anders Lee received only a couple of minutes of ice time in the third period and overtime.
“It’s not just Brock, and I know he’ll get it back,” Capuano said, “Any time you get to 20-plus goals in this league, you’re definitely feeling it, and it’s great. You’re doing the simple things, shooting pucks, driving the net. Maybe he’s been doing a little too much at times.”
Case in point from Thursday night’s game: Nelson came down two-on-one into the Flames’ zone, seemingly with room to unleash his potent wrist shot from above the faceoff circle. He held the puck too long, though, and a defenseman closed the gap and pushed Nelson to the end boards. Not even a scoring chance resulted.
“Yeah, probably should’ve shot there,” Nelson said. “I’m not too worried. You try to find different shooting lanes, do a few different things. Maybe I’m not finding the right spots lately. You keep working, keep playing, things will change.”
Capuano made a tweak to the forward lineup for Sunday night’s game, putting Eric Boulton in for only his second game of the season. Boulton had been on injured reserve, so he was activated and Mikhail Grabovski, still on Long Island with an upper-body injury, was placed on IR.
Rosters expand once the trade deadline passes, so there’s no concern about getting Grabovski back on the roster. He has been skating on his own at IceWorks and could be ready to rejoin the team when the Isles make their way back home after stops Tuesday night in Vancouver and Thursday night in Winnipeg.
They will face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday to cap the seven-game trip. They had won the first three games entering Sunday night.
Boulton is not a scoring machine, but Capuano hopes the 39-year-old’s intensity and consistent effort will rub off on a few of his forwards.
“We had some opportunities to go through guys [on Thursday] and we didn’t,” Capuano said. “Boults has always been a guy for us that brings energy. He’s a respected voice in the room and we hope it’s contagious.”