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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The Islanders started the hockey season looking solid defensively after the organization made improvements this past offseason. Little did they know that in the next month-and-a-half they would suffer injuries to five of their defensemen, leaving them short on the blueline.

While Mark Streit and Mike Mottau are all still out for the long term and Milan Jurcina is working towards coming back, defensemen Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald are on the cusp of returning to the Islanders lineup.

MacDonald and Hillen have been skating alone for close to a week. Hillen had his first practice with the team Thanksgiving Day at Iceworks after suffering a concussion on Nov. 11 in San Jose. MacDonald practiced Monday at Nassau Coliseum after he had surgery to repair his hand after taking a shot Oct. 21 in Tampa Bay.

Even though Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said he still needed to check with the team trainers to find out the status of those players and added, “It’s still unclear where both of them stand,” MacDonald and Hillen are looking forward to getting back in the lineup as soon as possible.

Andrew MacDonald #47 of the New York Islanders skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum on October 21, 2010 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
“I still have to get an x-ray,” MacDonald said. “Essentially the doctor is going to decide what’s really going on. I feel like I can play, but it’s not really up to me at this point. There are still a lot of games left. Whether the doctor decides that I’m not ready for another few games, I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.”

Hillen added, “I feel really good. I feel like I’ve been skating really hard with AMac (MacDonald) on the side. Whenever they put us back in there, we should hit the ground running. We shouldn’t miss a beat.”

While they’ve been out, Dylan Reese and Travis Hamonic have been recalled on emergency loan from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to help the Islanders boost their defensive play.

“Dylan got some time in last year and he played great,” MacDonald said. “He just picked up where he left off. He’s really comfortable out there. Travis has a lot of experience from World Juniors. They are both playing strong minutes. You see them out there in the last minute of games and that shows a lot of confidence in these guys. It gives the coaches options to throw who ever they want out there.”

Even though Reese and Hamonic have done a great job on the back end, the defense may start to look a little more like the beginning of the season in the coming weeks. But both players are being careful and taking the necessary precautions before they step onto the ice for their first game back.

“It’s good,” MacDonald said about his hand. “I got a special glove made with extra padding.  The two fingers are sown together so it’s a bit more stable. It feels good though.”

Jack Hillen #38 of the New York Islanders skates against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 6, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Hillen added, “With this type of injury (a concussion), you really have to be smart and careful about it because the worst thing is to come back and get another one and set yourself even further back. It then turns into a two week injury so you really have to be careful.”

Although being injured is never what you want, the worst part is not being able to contribute and help the team.

“It’s the worst experience,” Hillen said. “You never want to get hurt because you feel like you have no control of the situation. It’s just a bad feeling anytime you have to watch the boys, especially when we’re not winning. It’s really hard.”

While Capuano is not sure when MacDonald and Hillen will get the green light to play in a game, both defensemen are excited about the prospect of playing in back-to-back games with the Rangers on Thursday at the Nassau Coliseum and Friday at Madison Square Garden.

“It will feel like my first NHL games again,” Hillen said. “I came up my first year out of college and played the Rangers home and away. It was a great experience. Anytime you get to play them, it’s really fun.”

Unfortunately for MacDonald, he knows exactly what it’s like playing the Rangers coming off of an injury.

“Last year I broke my foot and my first game back was against the Rangers too,” MacDonald said. “You could feel how much quicker the pace was. That’s definitely my target game to come back. Throw me in the fire right away. I would love that. There’s no way to come back like playing against the Rangers.”

Undoubtedly, the Islanders look forward to seeing MacDonald and Hillen return to the lineup as the team is 1-11-3 since MacDonald’s absence and 1-3-2 without Hillen.
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