Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Robin Lehner are all hurt for the foreseeable future. Martin and Clutterbuck both have upper-body “day-to-day but not today” injuries according to Barry Trotz.
Regardless of day-to-day status, the injuries are serious enough that Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang were both emergency call-ups from Bridgeport, though only Dal Colle has been added to the active roster. Robin Lehner most likely has a concussion after Brady Tkachuk ran him over on Tuesday, and no timetable was announced for his return yet. As this would not be his first concussion, it could be a serious injury for Lehner, and he will not be back any time soon.
Without Martin and Clutterbuck, the Isles’ game has become very slow and flat. The recent games against the Flyers and the Senators simply weren’t very physical. The Islanders consistently were a step behind the play and the ones being hit rather than hitting. It’s no secret that Martin constantly brings life to the team when they’re down by supplying huge checks or that Clutterbuck sparks the team with his constant badgering and chirping at the opposition. Lehner, too, is an incredibly important member of the team, having the best season of his career. Christopher Gibson, his replacement, has only played 13 games in the NHL over three seasons – just one of them this season back on December 6. The final stretch to the playoffs – let alone the playoffs themselves – is not exactly the ideal time to test a rookie goaltender.
With the playoffs a month away, the team needs Martin, Clutterbuck, and Lehner’s contributions more than ever. These injuries, combined with the lack of movement at the trade deadline, have most fans worried.
But this might not be the end after all.
The last time the Islanders made it to the playoffs, the 2015-16 season, they had a handful of rookies on the roster. The great John Tavares, among several others, were hurt for the final fifteen or more games of the season, and it was the rookies who secured the Islanders’ wild card spot in the playoffs. Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Scott Mayfield, and Ross Johnston all made debuts in the NHL during the final games of that season. Clearly, Pulock, Pelech, and Mayfield played well enough to stay on the team. Johnston took longer to crack the regular roster, but he’s made a favorable name for himself in his 16 games this season. Devon Toews has also made quite a name for himself this season, becoming a key defenseman and maintaining Hickey’s spot in the roster even after the Islanders veteran was declared healthy.
It’s important to remember that the Isles secured the playoffs that year without Tavares but with young, raw talent instead. Combine the positive track record of young players with Trotz’s masterful coaching, and the Islanders are still a Cup contender despite the injury setbacks.
Like Trotz said after the 4-2 win in Ottawa, “We’ve had guys out. We’ve had all that. But when it’s important, we’ve found ways to win.”
So, don’t count the Islanders out just because two-thirds of the “Identity Line” and a Vezina-candidate are hurt. This team knows how to win, and they plan to keep winning.
Featured Image: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images