The 10-game winning streak, the second-longest in Islanders history, is over, but what should not be forgotten is that it was achieved despite some significant absences in the lineup.
But as the Islanders look to extend what is now an 11-game point streak — they lost to the Penguins, 4-3, in overtime Thursday night in Brooklyn after bringing a three-goal lead into the third period — three key players are on the cusp of returning.
Defenseman Nick Leddy (lower body) and forwards Jordan Eberle (injured reserve/lower body) and Leo Komarov (injured reserve/neck and illness) returned to practice on Friday in East Meadow. It’s unclear whether any will play on Saturday afternoon when the Islanders face the Panthers at Barclays Center, but coach Barry Trotz said, “You might see them in warmups and we’ll go from there.”
The Islanders also recalled rookie forward Otto Koivula from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on Friday to again serve as roster insurance. That likely indicates that neither Eberle nor Komarov will be activated.
Forwards Matt Martin and Tom Kuhnhackl also are on injured reserve with lower-body injuries.
“Ebs, Leds and Leo are big parts of the team,” center Mathew Barzal said. “Everyone came together and filled roles, but at the end of the day, we know we’re a better team with Ebs and Leds and Leo back in our lineup. So it’ll be nice to have those guys back.”
Eberle returned to Barzal’s top line in practice, albeit on the left side with Anders Lee getting a maintenance day off. Komarov skated between wings Michael Dal Colle and Cal Clutterbuck with center Casey Cizikas also given Friday off for maintenance.
Trotz said he expects Cizikas and Lee to play Saturday.
Leddy rotated in with Johnny Boychuk, his usual defense partner, along with rookie Noah Dobson, who has played the last three games in Leddy’s absence.
Komarov has missed eight games, admittedly a longer stretch than he or the team anticipated as he dealt with the combination of a sore neck and the flu that went through the Islanders’ room. Eberle has been out for 10 games.
“You get back to skating with the guys and kind of feel part of the team, which is nice,” Eberle said. “The guys have been on a good run. It’s just nice to get back and feel their energy and get back into game shape.”
Regardless of whether the Islanders get any roster reinforcements against the Panthers, a key factor will be how they respond after Thursday’s disappointment.
Center Brock Nelson acknowledged there was some residual anger in the Islanders’ room on Friday after letting a three-goal lead slip away.
“Yeah, especially after the streak we had,” Nelson said. “It makes it harder knowing we let it slip. We have a mature group that will respond the right way. We’ve done that the last year and a half.”
This will be the last of three straight games at Barclays Center in a season-high four-game homestand.