TORONTO — The Islanders got a few steps closer to healthy on Sunday, activating Ryan Pulock off long-term injured reserve before returning from the All-Star break against the Maple Leafs.
Pulock, who suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 7 against the Blue Jackets, had missed the past 24 games before participating in Sunday’s practice.
If he returns on Monday in Toronto, he will do so to a blue line that is in need of help, with injuries having hampered the group all season long.
Pulock and Adam Pelech (upper body) are both considered game-time decisions for Monday’s game against the Maple Leafs, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters in New York on Sunday.
Pulock and Pelech skated as a pair during practice.
“I feel good,” Pulock told reporters. “I think it’ll be a discussion with the coaches [whether to play Monday]. I feel good and I’ve been trying to get ready for this and get myself ready to be back. Try to help the team win and go on a bit of a playoff push here, try to get ourselves in.”
To facilitate Pulock’s $6.15 million salary coming off LTIR, the Islanders moved Casey Cizikas (upper body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) to long-term injured reserve.
That allows them to go $3.45 million over the salary cap.
For both Cizikas and Bortuzzo, the LTIR designation is unlikely to affect their timetables.
Bortuzzo has already missed the mandatory minimum 24 days and 10 games while Cizikas will reach the 10-game benchmark on Monday.
Both, however, are on the path to full health. Cizikas practiced in a noncontact jersey with the team on Sunday in New York; Bortuzzo has started to skate on his own.
Pelech, who has been called day-to-day, suffered a presumed head injury after taking an illegal elbow from Brendan Gallagher in Montreal 10 days ago.
Having both him and Pulock back would allow Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov to take a lighter workload, with Dobson averaging 25:59 a night and Romanov right behind at 22:28, among other benefits.
“If we drop their ice time to 20, 25 minutes and we increase those [of Pelech and Pulock], I think it’s gonna be better,” Islanders coach Patrick Roy told reporters Sunday. “And I think they’re not gonna be as tired going on the ice and I think that’s gonna help our team tremendously.
“It was good to have Noah and Rommy get a lot of ice time, I think it helped in their development. But right now having those two guys back, playing against top lines as well, I think makes our team better.”
On the back end, where Pelech, Pulock, Bortuzzo, Scott Mayfield and Sebastian Aho have all been hurt at various times this season, the Islanders have used their opening night configuration just eight times this year, suffering through injury after injury.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel now, it is quite welcome.
The Islanders will need to do some salary-cap gymnastics once they are fully healthy.
Julien Gauthier was already made a casualty for that reason when the Islanders waived him over the All-Star break, officially sending the winger to AHL Bridgeport on Saturday.
Simon Holmstrom was also sent down to Bridgeport over the break for cap reasons, though he was recalled ahead of Sunday’s practice.
Such maneuvers, however, will be a small price to pay if it means the band is back together.
“I think Ryan was a little rusty, which is normal, but he’s been working so hard to be back in the lineup so I’m very happy the way he did practice,” Roy said. “Since I’ve been here, until that injury against Montreal, he’s been one of our better defensemen if not our best ‘D’. I’m very happy with him. They’re two good vets and they’re very important players on our team.”