On the morning after he was crushed into the end boards by Boston forward Michael Ryder, top-six Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli was not in attendance at the team’s training camp in Moncton, New Brunswick. According to coach Scott Gordon, Campoli returned to New York “for further evaluation.”
For a player coming off shoulder surgery as Campoli is doing, those words had an ominous ring. The defense is considered the Islanders’ strength, but they were so decimated by injuries on the back end last season that they had to use 13 defensemen before the season was over.
“It’s not the same injury,” Gordon said. “So, that’s good.”
After about a minute on the ice, Campoli got up looking a little woozy, but he left under his own power. Following the Isles’ 2-1 overtime win, he asked who won, and Gordon joked that he must have received a concussion if he didn’t know the answer to that question. But the new coach learned quickly that head injuries are a touchy subject around the Islanders.
“I swear to God it’s not a concussion,” Gordon said this morning. “I was joking last night.”
Seventh defenseman Bruno Gervais, who will play against Philadelphia Thursday night in London, Ontario, is the most experienced candidate to replace Campoli if he’s not back in time for the Oct. 10 season opener at New Jersey. Gordon listed Jack Hillen, Chris Lee, Brett Skinner and Joe Callahan as other defensemen who could contend for a roster spot.
“Among those four guys, I think there’s a real good competition there, and we have some options,” Gordon said. “If Chris is out for a week or two, we’re in good shape.”
A video review of Ryder’s hit on Campoli and the open-ice shot by Boston’s Johnny Boychuk that left Kurtis McLean with a nasty bruise across the bridge of his nose convinced Gordon both hits were clean although Boychuk’s forearm rode up into McLean’s face.
Gordon also expressed pleasure with how well the Islanders executed his high-tempo system first time out of the box. They outshot the Bruins, 38-19, and the defense did a good job of joining the rush and generating quality shots. Even Brendan Witt, who has 23 goals in 12 NHL seasons, jumped into the play once and drilled a shot that handcuffed Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask and almost bounced in off his glove.
“Yeah, he joined at the right time,” Gordon said of Witt. “It wasn’t reckless; it was calculated. There was good coverage by the forward, and had Witt not joined, it’s a two-on-two, and we don’t get the shot.”
After coaching his first NHL exhibition, Gordon came away even more excited about how his system might translate with a higher level of skill. “It’s funny,” Gordon said. “In Providence, we did the same thing, but it’s a little bit harder because we couldn’t make the plays these guys can make. So, that makes it better to know that, if we’re in the right spots, instead of that puck being a foot left or right of where our stick is, it’s on the tape and it’s a shot versus having to get possession and maybe having to beat a guy.
“I always knew the skill was better, but we’ve got some guys who can make some plays, and that’s an exciting thing to know. I’m hopeful that’s going to take the way we play as a team to another level.”