Returning Oliver Wahlstrom unlikely to get Islanders spot back

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TAMPA — Barry Trotz had said there was no guarantee Oliver Wahlstrom would be plugged right back into the Islanders’ lineup once he was fully recovered from the lower-body injury he sustained during the first-round series against the Penguins.

The coach is following through on that sentiment.

After Wahlstrom participated in pregame warmups for the first time since his injury ahead of the Islanders’ eventual 2-1 victory over the Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals Sunday, it became clear the rookie sharpshooter is now available.

Trotz said Monday that Wahlstrom is “pretty close to returning,” and that he “could go if necessary.” However, Trotz has evidently liked the job Travis Zajac has done in Wahlstrom’s place and doesn’t see a need to make any adjustments to the lineup.

“I think Zajac gives us a little more flexibility,” Trotz said Monday during the Islanders’ practice at Amalie Arena. “In the face-off circle, obviously a little more of a tricky role, [he’s] good on the walls. That’s probably the biggest thing, and experience. It’s working right now, so maybe don’t have to fix it right now.

Oliver Wahlstrom
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“But, you know, as the series goes on that may change. We won Game 1, things could change after [Tuesday’s game], they could change. But I think we found some stability and I’ll say some clarity for every line that, right now, we don’t have to do anything.”

Zajac has recorded one goal and one assist in eight playoff games since getting into the Isles’ lineup in Game 6 of the first-round series against Pittsburgh. He’s helped on face-offs and played a responsible game that has complemented the Islanders’ third line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and fellow trade deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri.

In five playoff games prior to his injury, Wahlstrom scored one goal and collected two assists.

The Islanders had a well-attended optional practice Monday at Amalie Arena.

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was not on the ice, which was presumably to give him rest ahead of his anticipated seventh straight start Tuesday. Rookie Ilya Sorokin and veteran Cory Schneider took reps in net during practice.

“We’re healthy from [Sunday] night,” Trotz said. “Usual postgame bruises and what have you, but nothing to report.”

Captain Anders Lee, who is still recovering from ACL surgery, was also on the ice doing drills by himself on the other end of practice. He is not expected to return this postseason.

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