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Islanders will feel MacDonald's loss in many ways

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- With more than 23 minutes of ice time per game suddenly gone from the New York Islanders blue line, more than one defenseman will have to step up.

Andrew MacDonald, who led the Islanders in average ice time throughout the regular season, is out with an injury that Newsday reported is a broken hand that will keep him out for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As New York preps to face the No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), a sizable hole must be plugged.

"It's a big loss," veteran defenseman Radek Martinek said. "You can't replace a guy like that. Just you have to fill in the best you can."

Coach Jack Capuano would not divulge his plans for replacing MacDonald, who has been a fixture alongside Travis Hamonic over the past couple seasons on a defense pairing that plays in most any situation.

The absence of MacDonald not only necessitates that addition of a player to the lineup to take his place among the six-man defense unit, it also means at least one other player is going to have to play a vastly more prominent role to make up for MacDonald's missing minutes.

"Whoever I'm playing with, it's going to be different," Hamonic said. "Andrew and I have played together for three years now; we're pretty used to each other out there, so I think communication is going to be big tonight with my partner and trying to just get accustomed to each other quick as we can out there."

Brian Strait appears to be the choice. There was a stretch early in the season when Strait was playing 20-plus minutes per game, often alongside New York captain Mark Streit.

Strait was acquired off waivers from the Penguins on the eve of the regular season opening.

Capuano cautioned against reading too much into who starts the game with whom when it comes to lines or defense pairings, but he expressed confidence in Strait's ability to carry a bigger load.

"He handled it before he got hurt a couple months ago," Capuano said, referring to an ankle injury sustained in February that limited Strait to 19 games this season. "We know what we're getting with Brian: a hard-nosed guy who blocks shots, a great penalty killer, he plays the game hard.

"I feel Brian can handle top minutes in this League, and he's done it for us and been successful for us -- and we've been successful when he's doing it."

Martinek and Thomas Hickey are the candidates to earn a spot in the lineup in MacDonald's stead. Hickey played Game 1 but has been scratched in favor of veteran Matt Carkner since; 36-year-old Martinek has played in one game over the past month.

Another option is that both Hickey and Martinek are in and Carkner is out. Carkner has averaged 9:59 of ice time in the three games he's played.

The Islanders' possible Game 5 line combinations:

Josh BaileyJohn TavaresBrad Boyes

Matt MoulsonFrans NielsenKyle Okposo

David Ullstrom - Keith AucoinColin McDonald

Michael GrabnerCasey CizikasMatt Martin

Brian StraitTravis Hamonic

Radek MartinekMark Streit

Matt CarknerLubomir Visnovsky

Evgeni Nabokov

Kevin Poulin

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Joe Finley, Thomas Hickey, Jesse Joensuu, Anders Lee, Marty Reasoner

Injured: Andrew MacDonald (hand)

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