ISLANDERS (16-8-5) at BLUE JACKETS (11-17-2)
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COLUMBUS – New York Islanders forward Eric Boulton makes his season debut Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in what could be a good matchup for him.
Boulton, who had been on injured reserve with a lower body injury from Oct. 17 until Friday, has four goals and six points in 48 games for the Islanders since the 2012-13 season, but loves facing the Blue Jackets.
His two points in 10 games last season were goals against Columbus on April 2 and April 11, and his most recent assist was against the Blue Jackets on Nov. 9, 2013. Boulton, 39, has two goals and two assists in 10 career games against Columbus.
He’ll add some grit that otherwise would be lacking in the absence of right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who will miss the game with an upper body injury.
Clutterbuck might be available Sunday against the New Jersey Devils.
“He’s real close,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “If it was Game 7 here tonight there’d be a good chance he’d play. I don’t want to rush a guy back with the amount of hockey we have.”
Capuano likes the leadership Boulton provides for the Islanders (16-8-5).
“He’s a big part of our team on and off the ice,” Capuano said. “He’s been working hard, obviously, to get back in. With the stretch of games we have coming up, I think you’ll see certain guys coming in as we go forward.”
The other change is on defense, with Brian Strait replacing Marek Zidlicky.
New York is 6-0-2 in eight games and has three shootout wins and an overtime loss in the past four.
Columbus (11-17-2) has lost two straight and five of six. The Blue Jackets are 11-10-2 under coach John Tortorella, who replaced Todd Richards on Oct. 21, one day after the Islanders won 4-0 in Nationwide Arena.
“We have a lot to learn as far as how to play and how to become consistently competitive,” Tortorella said. “Forget about the results, just being competitive in this League. That is a huge point for this club as far as how we can get that mindset every day.
“It’s a young team and I still think they need to go through the process of how to win, and then you get to the next step that you feel you are going to win. That type of mental toughness.”
One positive is the play of second-year center Alexander Wennberg, who set a career high with three assists in a 6-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
Wennberg has all five assists on the season in the past three games despite Tortorella’s constant shuffling.
“You just try to find the best line for the moment,” Wennberg said. “You have to get used to it. Every guy you play with has skill, can make plays.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Brock Nelson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Anders Lee
Nikolai Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Ryan Strome
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas – Eric Boulton
Calvin de Haan - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey – Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy – Brian Strait
Injured: Jean-Francois Berube (lower body), Cal Clutterbuck (upper body)
Scratched: Steve Bernier, Marek Zidlicky
Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen - Brandon Saad
Matt Calvert – Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Scott Hartnell – Brandon Dubinsky - Nick Foligno
Gregory Campbell - William Karlsson - David Clarkson
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Ryan Murray - Andrew Bodnarchuk
Fedor Tyutin – Kevin Connauton
Injured: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Rene Bourque (upper body), Cody Goloubef (jaw), Markus Hannikainen (shoulder)
Scratched: Dalton Prout, Jared Boll
Status report: Connauton returns after being a healthy scratch the past three games. … Boll came off Injured Reserve on Saturday after missing 11 games with a foot injury.
Who’s hot: The Islanders have killed 18 consecutive shorthanded situations in the past seven games. … Hartnell has a power-play goal in three straight games. The last time he did that was Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2009, for the Philadelphia Flyers.