There was a new face at Islanders practice at Iceworks on Friday.
Lubomir Visnovsky, the defenseman the Islanders acquired in a draft-day trade with Anaheim last summer, joined his new team for the first time. When the NHL Lockout ended in January, Visnovsky chose to remain in his native Slovakia to tend to a family affair.
After meeting his new teammates Friday at Iceworks, Visnovsky expressed gratitude to Islanders management for accomodating his unique circumstances.
“I think those who know me and those who understand me and those who have a family will understand why I did what I did,” Visnovsky said. “For me, it’s family first, and there was a problem with my son. I stayed a little bit longer at home to help my family and him. I want to thank this organization for understanding everything and thank [my teammates] as well. Everybody in here seems to understand. I’m happy to be back here in the NHL.”
Visnovsky indicated that brighter days are ahead for his son, making the choice to return to North America an easy one.
“I had lots of meetings with doctors, and they said my son would be ok. At that point, I said, ‘Ok, it’s time to go back to the NHL.’”
The 36-year-old blueliner arrived in New York Wednesday, passed his team physical Thursday and is expected to jump into the lineup Saturday at home against Buffalo. Visnovsky has posted 40-plus points in five of the last seven seasons, logging heavy power play minutes in Los Angeles, Edmonton and Anaheim.
The big challenge for me is to help this team and show everybody that this is a playoff team. I’m playing for the playoffs. We have a big game tomorrow and I have a lot to prove. - Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky
Visnovsky scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 32 games for Bratislava Slovan of the KHL. Head Coach Jack Capuano believes the team could benefit from the offensive spark Visnovsky brings.
“We expect what we’ve seen in the past from him,” Capuano said. “He gives us another puck-moving defenseman that can join the rush. We don’t generate a lot from our blue line right now. It’s evident with the amount of goals we’ve scored. If you look around the league, successful teams have defensemen who score big goals at key times.”
Visnovsky says that after playing 32 games and skating on his own for the last few weeks, he’s in game-shape and ready to contribute right away.
“It’s up to the coach, but I’m ready to play,” Visnovsky said. “If he gives me the chance, I’ll be very happy. The big challenge for me is to help this team and show everybody that this is a playoff team. I’m playing for the playoffs. We have a big game tomorrow and I have a lot to prove.”
The Topolcany, SVK native was paired with Mark Streit during power play drills at Friday’s practice. The two veterans showed early chemistry on the blue line.
“He’s a power-play guy,” Streit said. “We moved around for a little bit and you could tell he’s shifty. He’s got great vision and a really great shot so he’s going to help us out big time. He’s played the power play his whole life and you could tell.”
Visnovsky’s arrival comes at a key time for the Islanders. Matt Carkner was placed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury he sustained Wednesday. The club has lost three straight games, and is looking to reverse its fortunes with four of the next five games on home ice. Forward Josh Bailey, who has been skating with the team for the last week, could also dress for Saturday’s game.
John Tavares says that having both players jump into the fold could spark the team.
“Both those guys I think are coming in at the right time because we need a little boost here,” Tavares said. “We’re getting a couple of guys that we’re really going to rely on in all areas of our game. The veteran experience with Lubo and his ability to add more offense to our back end, as well as his ability to move the puck and shoot is going to be huge. Josh obviously has been with us for a while now and we know what comes out of him. He’s a really intelligent player who makes a lot happen out there for us and does a lot of things well defensively too. Hopefully it can lead to some good results starting tomorrow.”