Ryan Strome did not envision a season like this. Coming off of a 50-point season a year ago, there were high expectations for the 2011 fifth overall pick. Strome went from starting the season on the top line to the press box.
The 22-year-old forward was scratched for Game 3 Tuesday night. It was the third time Capuano benched Strome in these playoffs. He sat out for Games 5 and 6 against the Florida Panthers after recording a goal and an assist in the first four games. Josh Bailey was injured in the Game 6 series-clinching win against the Panthers. With Bailey unable to go, Strome returned for Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He formed a line with Shane Prince and Brock Nelson. The line quickly gelled as Strome assisted on Prince’s two first period goals in their series-opening win. The team, including Strome, did little in Game 2.
Strome hasn't been great at both ends, but G3 scratch had two assists in Game 1 of this series and is Isles team-best plus-3 in playoffs.
— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) May 3, 2016
Experience, Experience, Experience
Bailey returned in a big way for Game 3, scoring two goals. Bailey’s return meant an exit for Strome. Capuano decided to keep veteran Steve Bernier in the lineup. The 33-year-old was scratched for most of the season, scoring a goal in 24 games. Capuano decided to go with Bernier late in the series against the Panthers to counter the way Florida plays, not to mention the fact that Capuano likes his “experienced guys”. Bailey, who did not score a goal in his last 21 games prior to his two-goal effort in Game 3, went right back into the lineup, no questions ask. Bailey has played in 557 regular-season games. The 2008 ninth overall pick also plays well on the defensive end, as well as in the corners.
“Last series [the message was] I needed to be a little harder to play against,” Strome said. “Points don’t always tell the whole story. I’m always confident in my game, but unfortunately I don’t make the decisions. I have to live with it. But it’s an important time here and no matter what I’m thinking right now, it’s all about the team.”
Strome, who had just 28 points in 71 games, spent three weeks with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL in November. One would think there would be some friction between coach and player.
“After last series, we were just circling back and [he] was getting my thoughts,” Strome said Tuesday morning, his face dripping with sweat after a hard skate with the other scratches. “As a young guy, sometimes you don’t always get to voice your opinion. He has been great with me. Sometimes, you don’t always see that.”
Despite the open dialog with Capuano, it doesn’t make the benching any easier.
“You want to play, and anytime you don’t get to play and you get that opportunity taken away from you, it sucks,”
The benchings and demotion have lit a fire under Strome. When he returned from Bridgeport, Strome scored two goals and two assists in his first three games. He just has to show the consistency from a season ago. Heading into Game 4, it still sounds like Strome’s status in up in the air.
“When you go up and down the lineup — and I’m looking at it now — you’ve got tough decisions to make on a daily basis,” Capuano said Wednesday. “Overall, Ryan knows what he needs to do to play better, but it’s not like he’s played poorly. It’s a numbers game right now, too.
It appears that the numbers will not be in his favor. Strome was skating with the fifth line in practice Thursday Morning. The Isles look to even the series Friday at home.
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19