PITTSBURGH -- Jack Capuano said he wants to go with a more veteran lineup against the Penguins on Friday night, so he’s shuffled the deck a bit.
Thomas Vanek is back, and that was a no-brainer. After missing five games with a strained upper-body muscle, Vanek did not even need to skate Friday morning to pronounce himself ready to go for the first time in nearly two weeks. He’ll be back with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the top line, trying to shake off rust as quickly as possible.
Michael Grabner also goes back in after missing Tuesday’s game as a healthy scratch. Asked if he learned anything by watching Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Leafs, he smiled.
“The only thing I’m going to change is getting the puck to go in the net,” he said. “I’ve been skating and getting chances.”
Eric Boulton comes out from Tuesday’s lineup, but so does Brock Nelson, who got top-line duty in Vanek’s spot as well as first-unit power play time, where he produced a pair of goals in the past five games.
It’s an unpopular move to sit Nelson, and Capuano wrestled with it.
“Brock’s played extremely well for us, and I think other guys have seen that,” said the coach, hinting that more listless play from a few of his forwards and Nelson will take a regular’s spot.
Nelson was going to lose that PP time to Vanek, so it’s reasonable to wonder if he could be effective with 10 minutes or so, or whether the third line is better off doing that. The Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Peter Regin-Cal Clutterbuck line was the Isles’ most effective on the forecheck in Toronto, so Capuano is sticking with them for Friday.
“Brock is a level-headed kid,” Capuano said. “He understands the situation.”
On defense, Radek Martinek makes his first appearance in seven games, taking Aaron Ness’ spot. Ness played with confidence and verve his first six games after being recalled, but that seventh in Toronto on Tuesday was ugly. So instead of pulling Matt Carkner out, Capuano is going with the same six that played here on Oct. 25, when Martinek had two assists in his season debut.
The Isles will be facing Penguins backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff on Friday, just as they did a month ago. Zatkoff was good enough to win, but the Isles stormed back from one-goal deficits twice in the third to win on Josh Bailey’s goal with 1:40 go. That was Bailey’s last goal as well.
The biggest thing to remember about that victory? It was all second- and third-line play that rallied the Isles. Tavares had an assist, but wasn’t a big factor. The Isles need more of that to snap out of the 2-6-0 funk they’re in.