It wasn’t a coincidence that when Anders Lee returned from COVID protocol that the New York Islanders’ fortunes started to turn around. Not only had the Islanders picked up points entering Thursday’s game with the Nashville Predators, but the offense did its part with 11 goals over that span, with Lee playing a focal role in the much-needed offensive turnaround.
Lee finding his game has undoubtedly helped the offense generate more chances. Six of the last seven goals for the Islanders have come from in-tight, whether it be from bodies in front or just the ability to garner inside position in the offensive zone.
The Islanders’ power play is three for their last nine. You can guess who has played the net-front role on the top power-play unit, which has allotted for two of the three.
“It’s something that is part of our game plan every night,” Anders Lee said. “Certain guys are expected to be there quite a bit. When things aren’t going well when the pucks not going your way, it’s hard for us to find a goal, that’s where they usually end up coming out of.”
Anders Lee had struggled for the majority of the season to be that net-front presence that the Islanders need to see game in and game out. Lee had failed to look like himself on the ice by using his large 6’3, 235 lb frame to provide screens.
After suffering a torn ACL in mid-march of last season, Lee seemed hesitant to put himself in a position where another injury could occur. It was not the first significant injury of his career, back in April of 2016 a Johnny Boychuk slapshot fractured his leg.
Now, Lee looks to be getting more and more comfortable lately, and that is a rather good sign for his line and seems to be sparking others to do the same.
Forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who only had one goal in 19 games, is currently on a two-game goal streak. On Tuesday, his goal against Ottawa came from in-tight as he pounced on a loose rebound.
“Our team battled really well in front of the net,” said forward Kieffer Bellows who picked up a goal in the win against Ottawa. “You look at Lee’s two goals in front of the net, I think we just shot the puck a lot and really attacked for rebounds and secondary chances. That’s something we have really been focusing on.”
On Sunday against Chicago, Pageau scored a power-play goal, as he positioned himself deep in the slot, in front of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, before deflecting one past him.
Linemate Mathew Barzal has also benefited from Lee’s return. It has also allowed Barzal more time and space to make plays. With Lee back playing stronger than before, the opposition cannot just pay attention to one player on the ice.
And since Anders Lee has returned from the COVID list, Barzal has points in four straight games with one goal and five assists.
For Lee and the Islanders, crashing the net is how New York will generate goals. As the Islanders look to extend their newfound fortune, Lee will need to continue his hard work down low.
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