Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said he expected depth to play a role this postseason, and it looks to be happening sooner rather than later.
Rookie winger Oliver Wahlstrom collided with Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson and took a rough spill into the boards in the third period of Monday’s 3-2 double overtime win in Pittsburgh. Not only did his head snap back from the impact, but his right knee bent at a horrific angle and he couldn’t put any weight on it as he was helped off the ice.
“He’s being looked at right now,” Trotz said Tuesday, which was an off day for the team.
It sounds like if Wahlstrom is unavailable, Travis Zajac would be the next man up with the Isles ahead 3-2 in the series.
“More than anything, if something were to happen, a guy like Travis Zajac would come to mind,” Trotz said. “He’s had many of these moments and he plays a couple of positions. I would say he’s in the forefront right now.”
When discussing depth ahead of Monday’s Game 6, Trotz specifically mentioned Zajac, who has skated every pregame warmup of the first round as the 13th forward. It’s worth noting that Trotz said Zajac was a better option “if a center goes down.”
The longtime Devil, who the Islanders acquired along with Kyle Palmieri at the trade deadline, spent his first 13 regular-season games with the Islanders as a center/wing hybrid. He bounced around the lineup, but never quite made a noticeable impact, especially not at the wing.
Zajac has the experience that makes him an appealing first option for Trotz. Another possibility would be to replace Leo Komarov with the 36-year-old Zajac on the top line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. In 42:58 of ice time, that trio recorded two goals and five high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Winger Michael Dal Colle would likely be next in line, considering the opening is on his natural left side. It would allow Palmieri to flip to his natural right side, with Jean-Gabriel Pageau at center of the third line.
Dal Colle’s last game action was on May 4. Ross Johnston, who could be another option to bring size and strength to the lineup, competed in the regular-season finale on May 10.
Considering the Isles’ first line hasn’t been effective this first-round series, Trotz could try to shake things up and insert Zajac, while dropping Komarov to the left wing of the third line.
With his double overtime winner Monday night, Josh Bailey now has two playoff OT winners and moved into a tie for third in franchise history, behind only Bob Nystrom (four), Mike Bossy (three) and Ken Morrow (three).