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Islanders rely on returning veterans in crucial stretch

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the New York Islanders haven't had too many opportunities to see their two oldest players suit up at the same time.

Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, 37, returned to the lineup Monday after missing more than three months with a concussion, the sixth of his career. The team's elder statesman, 38-year-old goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, made 32 saves in a 2-1 loss Wednesday to the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium, his first start since returning earlier in the week from a lower-body injury.

Those veterans could be crucial if the Islanders hope to move up in the standings before the upcoming Olympic break. That potential make-or-break run begins against the Rangers on Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).

"It's key. Those guys are our leaders. They're obviously great players," captain John Tavares said. "Their ability on the ice is huge and their presence in the locker room makes a big difference for our group."

Nabokov arguably was the Islanders' best player in their loss Wednesday in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game and will return to the crease when they take on the Rangers. Visnovsky, on the other hand, admits to still dealing with rust after missing 46 games due to his injury.

"It's not easy after three-and-a-half months," Visnovsky said after the team's morning skate. "I had not too much time for skating. This is my third game [back]. I hope it will be better. It's not easy. For me it's like a new season. During the summer I do every day something different. Right now I do for three months nothing. This was different. It was not easy to do. I need more time."

The hope is Visnovsky soon can contribute to a struggling Islanders power play that has gone 0-for-17 during the past four games, all losses. If he can kick-start a power play that ranks 21st in the League, the Islanders could find some traction against the Rangers, who held an optional skate Friday and will start Henrik Lundqvist in net for the fourth straight game.

"I think [Visnovsky] will boost the power play. When you just get back, trying to make the right play, you're just trying to do a bit too much," coach Jack Capuano said. "His focus, especially today, is, 'You're there for a reason. You're a veteran guy, you've got a great shot, you get pucks to the net.' I think you'll see him do more of that."

Here are the projected lineups for the Islanders and Rangers:


Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Peter Regin - Frans Nielsen - Josh Bailey

Michael Grabner - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald

Brian Strait - Andrew MacDonald

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Matt Donovan - Calvin De Haan

Evgeni Nabokov

Kevin Poulin

Scratched: Radek Martinek, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton

Injured: Travis Hamonic (concussion)


Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Chris Kreider

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan

Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Daniel Carcillo - Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Anton Stralman - Marc Staal

John Moore - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Justin Falk

Injured: Derek Dorsett (broken fibula)

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