Defenseman Andrew MacDonald is set to return to the Islanders lineup Thursday when the Isles face the Rangers in the first game of a home-and-home set with their biggest rivals.
For a club that was missing as many as five defensemen from their lineup due to injury, MacDonald’s return couldn’t come soon enough.
“He’s been skating real hard. He looked good and he’s ready to go,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano said after practice on Thursday. “He’s a guy who can give us 20-plus minutes and is really going to help us out on the power play with his distribution of the puck on the power play and his shot.”
MacDonald has been out since suffering a broken hand during the Islanders 3-2 win over the Lightning on October 21. Although he hasn’t registered a point yet in seven games this season, MacDonald was a steady contributor on the Islander blue line. Many observers said it was no coincidence that the Islanders started their 14-game winless streak as soon as A-Mac was out of the lineup.
It was tough for the 24-year-old Nova Scotia native to watch his team struggle. “It’s bad enough sitting out for six weeks, but if the team’s winning, you’re happy,” MacDonald said. “But when you lose as many games as we lost, everybody’s kind of down and it’s tough to watch but we got a big win in our last game.”
Now MacDonald can contribute to his team’s success instead of watching from the press box.
The fact that the Islanders haven’t played since last Friday may actually benefit the young defenseman who has been able to get extra practice time.
“I got a good week of skating in with the coaches and that helped a lot. I couldn’t skate for the first four weeks or so and the first time back on you can really feel it,” MacDonald said. “I’m just happy that I can keep my conditioning up. The first little bit, it’s going to be really simple because it’s been six weeks [since I’ve played].”
Although MacDonald will be playing his first game for the Islanders with Capuano behind the bench, he is familiar with his new coach. “I had two years with Jack in Bridgeport and I know what his system is all about and what he expects from his players,” MacDonald said. “Everyone is buying into it and it’s good to have some familiarity, especially coming back from an injury.”
Capuano is also comfortable with MacDonald. “When I was in Bridgeport, he played in the ECHL with Utah in the playoffs and worked his way up,” Capuano explained. “Anytime that you’re focused and determined the way Andrew is as a player and as a person, it doesn’t surprise me he’s played well at this level.”
MacDonald is eager to return and ready to take on the Rangers. “Last year when I came back from injury, they [the Rangers] were my first game back, too,” MacDonald recalled. “The intensity was a bit more than the average game. I’m really looking forward to it and I really know what to expect. Considering it’s a home and home, both teams are going to try to set the tone for the next night, too.”
The Islanders activated MacDonald and Jack Hillen from the injured list and placed Trent Hunter and Mike Mottau on the injured list. Hillen is probably a few days away from being game ready.