The Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring...

The Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL game against the Rangers on Sunday, April 11, 2021, at Nassau Coliseum. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Cal Clutterbuck was back in the lineup for the Islanders against the Capitals on Thursday night after missing three games with an injury, and Travis Zajac was a surprising healthy scratch.

Zajac has been expected to play an important role down the stretch after being part of a trade with the Devils earlier this month.

With Zajac out, Leo Komarov joined Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle on the first line. Coach Barry Trotz said he wanted to maximize the "weight’ in his lineup against the Capitals, who have a big team.

"I talked to Travis," Trotz said. "He’s going to be a big part of what we do . . . He’s done a real good job. I told him he’s going to be right back in there. He’s such a good pro.

"I know it’s probably hard. He probably hadn’t been in this position for a long time. He just wants to be part of the group and he’s going to be a big part of it, as he is right now . . . You have to make some choices sometimes that are a little bit tough, but if you’re going to go far, you’re going to need depth."

Palmieri supports protocols

Robin Lehner, a former Islanders goaltender, caused a stir on Wednesday when he criticized the NHL and NHLPA for allegedly not following through on a promise to loosen COVID-19 restrictions after players are vaccinated.

Lehner, now a Golden Knight, called that a "blatant lie" and argued the league must take players’ mental health into consideration in setting its policies.

The NHL countered that it had made no specific promises such as those implemented by the NBA and MLB.

Islanders wing Kyle Palmieri acknowledged before Thursday’s game the ongoing challenge of restricted behavior because of the virus. But he supported how the NHL and Islanders have handled the matter.

"I think in the grand scheme of things," he said, "the challenges that we face as professional hockey players are pretty pale in comparison to the rest of the world."

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