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AJ Mleczko added to NBC booth for Islanders-Hurricanes Games 3 and 4

MSG Network analyst AJ Mleczko works a game

MSG Network analyst AJ Mleczko works a game between the Islanders and Canadiens at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on March 14. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Islanders fans unhappy about having the Hurricanes’ longtime play-by-play man, John Forslund, calling the teams’ second-round playoff series are about to get some balance in their television viewing lives.

NBC has added analyst AJ Mleczko in the booth alongside Forslund for Games 3 and 4 in Raleigh, filling in for Ed Olczyk while Olczyk contributes to NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage.

Mleczko worked about two dozen Islanders games for MSG Networks this season, then all four games of the first-round sweep of the Penguins, three for NBC and one for MSG.

Mleczko, an Olympic gold and silver medalist for the United States, also is to contribute to MSG’s postgame show in Raleigh, as will Brendan Burke, MSG’s play-by-play man.

Does she think she will provide announcing balance in the eyes of fans?

“I think on paper I do, and from just the optics of it, there’s no question I do,” she said from Dallas, where she is to work Game 3 of the Blues-Stars series on Monday night.

“I will say I watched both of the games and John Forslund, like all of these guys are, he is the ultimate pro. To me I hear no one-sidedness. I know that that won’t be a popular opinion on the Islanders Twitter-sphere. But I listen to it and I try to hear what they’re hearing and I just think he’s so good at what he does.”

Forslund is a staple of NBC’s playoff roster and likely would have been part of its second-round coverage whether or not the Hurricanes were in it.

Some fans took use with an exchange in Game 2 on Sunday in which Jordan Eberle hit the crossbar, as Olczyk noted on the replay. Forslund then said, “It did, so we’re OK.” It appeared he simply meant “OK” as in that the no-goal ruling was correct, but some fans seized on the “we’re” part.

“Honestly, I’m sure there are some Canes fans out there that don’t like that he is so unbiased, that he’s down the middle,” Mleczko said. “I will tell you that I’ll sit there on Twitter and within minutes I’ll get two different tweets, tweets asking why I love the Dallas Stars so much and then another one asking me if I’m getting paid by the St. Louis Blues.

“People that work on a team all year don’t usually get to follow them past the first round unless they’re in radio or print, so these viewers at home are used to their guys. Islanders fans are used to Brendan and Butch [Goring], and they’re used to the MSG coverage. They’re used to that Islanders-centric broadcast, and you come to a national broadcast and it is 50-50.”

Mleczko said she is “thrilled” to get more Islanders games after having followed them this far.

“When you’re around one team more you get invested in them, the team as a whole and the players and the stories, who they are as people off the ice,” she said. “So you root for them and you want them to succeed.

“This Islanders story has been particularly compelling this season, with their success, with Lou [Lamoriello] coming in, with [Barry] Trotz coming in.

“It’s really fun to have the front-row seat to jump on the bandwagon, if you will. So for me then to be able to stay a part of it in the posteason as they make a push in the second round is thrilling, and I will say as a hockey player, as an analyst, it’s also a fun time to look at both teams."

Mleczko believes the Islanders can bounce back from their 2-0 series deficit.

“I see no panic in their game,” she said. “The [10-day] layoff did concern me . . . I think there is no way to really replicate playoff hockey in practice. So I think that was a little bit of a concern. But I think being down 2-0, if you want anybody behind the bench during that, you want Barry Trotz.

“He did it last year on his way to winning the Cup [with the Capitals] and he’s got an incredible way about him on the bench. There is no panic, and I do think he has these guys ready. So I do think they have the personnel, they have the depth and they have the will.”

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