Capuano has done a lot of mixing and matching throughout training camp, but has finally come to a decision on the lines for opening night. On Tuesday Arthur Staple broke the news to the Islanders faithful:
Looking at the line up, the biggest surprise off the bat is who won the job to play along side John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. At the start of camp Corey Conacher was not on anyone's radar to crack the team's top line, but his performance during preseason was enough to impress the coaching staff. He recorded a goal and an assist in the preseason and was very noticeable during practices at the Coliseum.
Conacher brings a lot of speed and hard work to the top line, but it is still strange to see him there over Brock Nelson.
Nelson will start as the second line center with Ryan Strome Nikolay Kulemin. Capuano has been very hesitant to move Nelson away from center since has been so dominant, so it is not too shocking to see him there. The actual surprise on this line, though, is the fact that Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski have been split up for the time being.
It was always my belief that Kulemin and Grabovski would stay together, and Ryan Strome would play wing for the pair. This was all under the assumption that Nelson was your first line winger, so you know what they say when you assume. In any case, everyone believed the two coming here would be a reunion of them playing on the same line. For now, that's not the case.
The fourth line essentially remains the same as last year.
Colin McDonald and Eric Boulton are the extra forwards. With Jack Skille sent down the other day it's not that surprising to see McDonald making the roster, although not the lineup. Boulton is a bit of a shock, especially since Anders Lee had a good training camp. Lee definitely out shinned several players that made the roster, but, as I wrote earlier today, I can understand why they sent him down.
The impression from Capuano prior to this decision was that if a young player is going to get playing time down in the minors, he would be better served there than not playing at the NHL level. It is likely why the Islanders did what they did with Lee. Don't worry though, it would be hard to see his tenure in Bridgeport lasting too long.
On the new and improved defense, things shook out somewhat as could be expected. Yes the Islanders are missing a few pieces that were thought to be there for opening night. However thanks to injury Calvin de Haan and Lunbomir Visnovsky will be watching from the press box.
As for the players actually playing, it is no surprise Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy are your number one and two defenseman. Thomas Hickey and Travis Hamonic is an interesting choice for the second pairing. I believe it would do Griffin Reinhart some good if he had some time to play along side Hamonic, but Strait and Hickey could be a problematic pair as well, so I understand the decision to pair Reinhard and Strait.
Matt Donovan is the extra defender. He isn't a blow you away defenseman, but he will get the job done if the Islanders need him to play.
So there you have it. The Islanders opening night lineup. With every minute that passes the puck drop gets closer and closer.