BOSTON - A few reactions, knee-jerk (from me, naturally) and postgame (from the Isles) following Tuesday night's preseason win against the Bruins.
The team is off Wednesday, so the last two real evaluation days for the staff are the games Thursday in Newark against the Devils and Friday in Bridgeport against the Bruins. Those games will be last call for a few players who want to be in uniform on Oct. 10.
The player who most helped his roster case Tuesday night, for me, was Cory Conacher. He got a chance to play with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo -- then, when the Isles' attack completely fizzled in the opening five minutes of the second, it was Conacher-Tavares-Cal Clutterbuck -- and made the most of his time. Conacher was a pest in front of the Boston net, got smacked around and popped back up, provided a great screen on T.J. Brennan's power-play goal and scored a beauty off the rush with a feed from Tavares.
"What I need to remind myself is to play that way no matter who I'm with," Conacher said. "Just try and focus on being the best player I can be regardless of the situation."
Unsaid in my brief chat with Conacher was that, in his first two games, he seemed to be trying too hard to make an impression instead of driving to the net, staying there and being a general pain. Taking a licking from a few of the big boys on the Bruins' defense and not backing down is a very, very good way to get positive reviews from this coaching staff.
Clutterbuck, by the way, has been the Isles' best forward throughout camp, for me. His preparation and ability to do his job right from Day One is noticeable. It makes me think it could have been a very different season last year had he not suffered a deep skate cut to his thigh in the preseason opener.
Kuleimin and Skille
Also liked Nikolay Kulemin's game Tuesday night. For a big guy, he can move. Just a very solid, all-around dependable player. Jack Skille is a battler, too, and he is still in the running for the 13th forward slot. He and Colin McDonald play a similar game, so it could come down to those two as the extra forward on opening night.
Tavares was still pretty down on his own game after Tuesday night, despite playing a strong second period and getting feisty in the third. He seemed fine after taking a slash from Adam McQuaid to the back of his leg. "We weren't very good at all for the first half of the game," he noted.
I'm hearing he will play in one of the two remaining games, and my guess is Brock Nelson will get the last audition spot on the left with Tavares and Okposo. Nelson has been a very good center in camp, but this is the line that makes the most sense, especially given Jack Capuano's desire to have Mikhail Grabovski in the middle.
As for Josh Bailey, it seems to me that when he's trying to do too much, it appears like he's frozen. There was a hustle play opportunity in the first period when a puck caromed off a player and went into the offensive-zone corner. Ryan Strome was closer to the puck, but Bailey had a clearer angle to either play it with a speed burst or at least put a body on a Bruins defender.
He did neither, coasting instead to let Strome be the lead forechecker. I imagine bad words were muttered under the breaths of coaches on the bench and in the press box. It's a small, nothing play, but if Bailey had driven into the corner hard and hit someone, it could have said something.
What will happen with Bailey and the four years and $14 million left on his deal? I can't see any team taking him in a trade, even for a mid-round pick. Maybe if he's placed on waivers, but unlikely then, too.
I was reminded of a game from April 11, 2013, in this same building. It was a huge game in the Isles' playoff push against one of the better teams in the East. The Isles won, 2-1, and Bailey had both goals. It was his best, most clutch game of his career, and it seemed like a turning point for a guy who'd been trying to prove he should be a big part of the core going forward.
Now, less than 18 months later, he might not have a role on the team at all.
Strome played well, but was it enough? We've gone over this situation an awful lot. I was even chided on Twitter on Wednesday morning for going over it too much. But Strome's spot seemed assured when camp began.
If he goes to Bridgeport, perhaps that will be the impetus he needs. It worked last year. I could envision a scenario where he is sent down before opening night, Bailey begins the season with a roster spot and things could change soon after the start of the season.
Michael Grabner is in that gray area too, which is made grayer by an upper-body injury that's keeping him off the ice. It's highly unlikely he plays either of the next two games, which says to me he'll start the season on injured reserve so he can get his conditioning in line.
So there's another spot for Strome to grab.
Calvin de Haan (upper body, not shoulder related) and Lubomir Visnovsky (back spasms) are still out. Of those two, my feeling is Visnovsky will be ready for opening night. Neither is likely to play this week, so de Haan could start on IR as well for conditioning purposes.
That could mean something for Griffin Reinhart, who had a lousy first period and better second and third periods Tuesday. He felt he handled himself well against the Bruins' big boys -- he hacked off Milan Lucic with an inadvertent high stick in the third -- and it was a good test for him.
Whether it was enough to land him in the top six opening night is another story. My guess? If de Haan is out, Brian Strait or Brennan pair with Travis Hamonic in the short term and Ryan Pulock makes the cut. Still undecided, however.
And lastly, how about Kevin Poulin? He gave up three goals, yes. The second goal was stoppable. But he was very sharp again. If only he had come out like this last season.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that he gets claimed on waivers if and when he's sent down. If not, it could be a very good thing for the Islanders that Poulin, still only 24, get a full season as a starter in Bridgeport. He can still be a valuable asset.
Since I've been asked (again and again and...) for my opening-night projections, here's what I've got right now. Please mock me to your heart's content on Twitter. You know, same as always:
(extras: Skille, Boulton; IR: Grabner)
(extra: Czuczman; IR: de Haan, Carkner)