After skating much of the season with Matt Moulson on the left wing, the New York Islanders' top line, featuring captain John Tavares and right wing Kyle Okposo, could be getting a slight makeover for their game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.
During the team's morning skate, Tavares and Okposo matched up with Michael Grabner, who leads the team through five games with five assists, seven points and a plus-5 rating. Considered among the fastest skaters in the League, Grabner is a definite departure from Moulson, who has flanked Tavares for much of the star center's career.
After contributing three straight 30-goal seasons by parking himself in front of the opposition's crease, Moulson is off to a slow start to the 2013-14 season, with one goal and no assists in five games. Grabner, on the other hand, is off to a fantastic start and using his speed in a way that Islanders coach Jack Capuano thinks could benefit his top line.
"With Johnny's vision and his hockey sense, Grabs [Grabner] is a game-breaker and he can move," Capuano said. "You've got to be first on the forecheck. You've got to have some speed to get extended zone time. We played those guys together a little bit in Nashville [Saturday] and last year against Tampa Bay when Moulson didn't play, so we'll just see how it goes and take it shift by shift."
The trio of Tavares, Okposo and Grabner, with Grabner playing his off wing, contributed a big goal against the Predators on Saturday, with Tavares scoring in the second period that put the Islanders ahead 2-1. Capuano continued to juggle his lines after his team took the lead, but it didn't work in what ended as a 3-2 loss. However, Tavares seemed pleased Tuesday to hear that the speedy Grabner would be on his wing against Buffalo.
"Obviously Grabs' speed is his biggest asset," Tavares said. "I don't think there's anyone in the League who can really back off defensemen like he can. He can create space. He's obviously been playing well. When he plays aggressive with his speed, I find that's when he's really making it tough on the other team."
Capuano also announced that defenseman Matt Donovan again would be a healthy scratch. He sat out Saturday in Nashville after playing 13:23 (lowest among Islanders defensemen) in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
Buffalo held an optional skate, which was attended by goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth, as well as center Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Jamie McBain.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston said that 18-year-old rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday.
Here are the projected lines for the Islanders and Sabres:
Thomas Vanek - Steve Ott - Cody Hodgson
Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Zemgus Girgensons - Mikhail Grigorenko - Brian Flynn
Johan Larsson - Cody McCormick - Kevin Porter
Henrik Tallinder - Tyler Myers
Mark Pysyk - Christian Ehrhoff
Rasmus Ristolainen - Jamie McBain
Scratched: Mike Weber
Suspended: Patrick Kaleta
Injured: Ville Leino (ribs), Corey Tropp (jaw), Nikita Zadorov (hand)
Michael Grabner - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Matt Moulson
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Lubomir Visnovsky - Thomas Hickey
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Matt Carkner - Brian Strait
Scratched: Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson