Nino Niederreiter's return to junior hockey is Bruno Gervais' opportunity.
The Isles returned Niederreiter, the fifth pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, to Portland of the Western Hockey League on Thursday, one day after he played his ninth game with the Islanders in a 5-3 loss at Montreal. Had they played him in Friday's rematch at the Nassau Coliseum, the Isles would have used up a year on his entry-level contract -- and though Niederreiter didn't look out of place, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and coach Scott Gordon felt Niederreiter's development would be helped more by playing another season with the Winterhawks.
With Niederreiter back in Portland and Michael Grabner sidelined with a groin problem, enter Gervais, a defenseman who has been the odd-man out on the Isles' blue line this season.
With an opening up front, Gervais will make his 2010-11 debut Friday as a fourth-line forward, playing with Zenon Konopka and Jon Sim -- and he admitted he's a little nervous.
If Gervais wants to keep a spot in the lineup, he'd be well-advised to take care of the puck. Gordon was unhappy with his team's sloppiness in Wednesday's loss at Montreal.
"Sometimes there just isn't a play to be made," Gordon told the media after the morning skate. "If you keep trying to make that play and hope that with odds of it being 50-50 that it's going to work toward our advantage -- we need better odds in the risk-reward department, so that we're not always having to defend our mistakes at our net."
Another player who has been waiting a long time to make his debut is Montreal goaltender Alex Auld, who will make his first start of the season Friday. Carey Price has been in goal for Montreal’s first nine games, but with three games in four nights -- including a Saturday home game against Florida -- coach Jacques Martin opted to give Auld a chance to play.
However, the Canadiens won't have defenseman Andrei Markov, who has been out since injuring his knee in the playoffs last spring. Markov is almost ready to return, but the Canadiens have opted to wait at least one more day.