Islanders center Casey Cizikas’ status was in doubt going into their game Tuesday. But when the Islanders hit the ice against the Senators, it was Jean-Gabriel Pageau who was missing.
Pageau was declared day-to-day with an upper-body injury as Cizikas battled through a non-COVID illness to play in what became a 3-2 shootout loss for the Islanders. Coach Lane Lambert said Pageau’s issue came up earlier Tuesday and was unrelated to his missing practice late last week.
Otto Koivula started the game centering the fourth line with Matt Martin and Hudson Fasching on either side. Cizikas was on the third line with Zach Parise and Simon Holmstrom. Lambert kept Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat, two natural centers, together on the top line along with Josh Bailey.
That configuration changed after a slow first period, with Parise jumping up to the first line on the left of Horvat and Bailey playing on a line with Cizikas and Martin. That left Koivula, Fasching and Holmstrom as the de facto fourth line.
Koivula, who skated in an NHL game for the first time this season, finished with 6:36 time on ice and no shots on net.
Lambert said keeping Horvat and Barzal together was a priority, as the two could have been split up to play center on separate lines.
“I thought Horvat and Barzal played well together,” Lambert said. “We don’t play for a couple days. We went with what we’ve been going with.”
The Islanders are a veteran-laden team, and most of the group have played together for years. So communication should not be a problem this late in the season, but Lambert admitted Tuesday morning that it has been.
“Communication is critical,” Lambert said, “and I think there’s times when we could talk more.”
According to Natural Stat Trick, the second line of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri had a team-high 75.75 expected goals percentage on Tuesday over 11:15 time on ice.
Excluding seasons shortened by the pandemic, the last Eastern Conference team to make the playoffs with fewer than 95 points was the 2015-16 Red Wings, with 93. The Islanders entered Tuesday needing to get 35 points from their final 26 games in order to reach that benchmark.
Ottawa’s Shane Pinto is a native of Franklin Square, N.Y., just three miles from UBS Arena. Tuesday was his first NHL game on Long Island.
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