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ARNOLD: Islanders Need to Let Bellows, Wahlstrom Sink or Swim in Lineup

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New York Islanders Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom

Earlier this week New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz indicated that he was planning to put out a more consistent lineup than the one mixing and matching he did during the team’s five-game road trip.

That was great news, especially for a team that could benefit from line stability, but the Islanders need to go a step further when it comes to bolstering their lineup.

It’s time that they give Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom the opportunity to sink or swim.

The modus operandi of Trotz and Lou Lamoriello has been to go with veteran players or grit players instead of their younger prospects in the past. That’s held somewhat true again this season with decisions to put Leo Komarov, Michael Dal Colle and Ross Johnston in the lineup at different times through their first nine games.

But the Islanders have clearly looked their best when Bellows and Wahlstrom have been in the lineup together.

For example, Trotz opted to put the two with Jean-Gabriel Pageau last Saturday in Philadelphia and it went as well as you could have hoped it would have. As a line Bellows, Pageau and Wahlstrom had an 87.50 Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For the percentage of 83.33 in 6:10 of 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The three had a combined four shots on net in that game against Philadelphia, with Bellows registering three of them.

The Thursday prior to that, the trio played together in Washington as well. The game was Wahlstrom’s season debut and the 20-year-old scored his first NHL goal 9:50 into the game. On the ice with him at the time was Bellows.

It’s clear just from the small sample size that the two together, along with Pageau on a line could create the spark the Islanders need. The five-game stretch set the Islanders back early the season, now sitting last in the eight-team East Division.

The reliance on veteran players or guys with more experience at the NHL level is not a bad thing, and there is a case to be made that give younger talent the chance to develop a little longer has its benefits. During Trotz’s first year with the Islanders, he wanted to promote Devon Toews to the NHL roster right out of camp, but was talked out of it by Lou Lamoriello.

When the Islanders called him up later that year, he was ready for the NHL and never went back to Bridgeport after that.

Right now, however, is not the time to be gun-shy about giving Bellows and Wahlstrom minutes. The islanders need more than anything players with offensive-minded skill. The two of them possess that and they’ve both been working on playing responsibly away from the puck as well.

Of course, there will be some growing pains and mistakes along the way, but the benefits outweigh the risks of giving them consistent time in the lineup. And other organizations have shown why you give your young prospects a chance.

The Islanders got an up-close-and-personal look at it last year during the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two of Tampa Bay’s key contributors — Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli — were given chances early on in their young careers to crack a veteran ladened lineup.

They quickly became impact players for Tampa Bay.

Going back further to a team the Islanders are familiar with, just look at Jake Guentzel and the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship in 2016-17. It was another example of a veteran ladened lineup that ended up benefiting from an infusion of young blood.

Guentzel would end up leading the NHL with 13 goals and tied the league rookie record with 21 points in 25 games during the playoffs.

The circumstances are a bit different, understandably, and part of the lineup gymnastics the Islanders have had to do are in part because of their current cap crunch. But now seems as good as any to figure out a way to have Wahlstrom and Bellows in the lineup regularly.

Dal Colle, Johnston and Komarov certainly bring more experience to the lineup than either of Bellows or Wahlstrom. However, that hasn’t changed the results for the Islanders much during their five-game skid, and when the team has looked at its best the two young guns were in the lineup.

Austin Czarnik made a case as well to be in the conversation after a good outing on Sunday against Philadelphia, but it’s time the team let it ride with Bellows and Wahlstrom.

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.

New York Islanders

Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Tops Buffalo … Again

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Islanders sweep Sabres

No, this is not a copy-and-paste job from the past two games. The New York Islanders did in fact beat the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, for the third straight game on Sunday afternoon.

It was again a second period of dominance for the Islanders, who rattled off three goals to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish.

In what has probably felt like Groundhog Day for Buffalo, it was another game of missed opportunities and a (mostly) quiet effort from its superstars. The Islanders now move to 10-0-2 at Nassau Coliseum this season as they’ve continually dominated on home ice.

Let’s take a dive into what went right and wrong for the Islanders in this Plus/Minus breakdown.

 

Plus

Anders Lee: O Captain! My Captain! 

Anders Lee has made a home office for himself in front of the net throughout his career. In 2021, he’s continued that theme and thrived in the dirty areas.

His goal 5:13 into the second period Sunday gave him a goal in back-to-back games and points in four straight contests. Now with a team-leading 12 goals this season, he’s on pace to top his 20 in 68 games from last season.

Every hockey coach will wax poetic on the importance of net-front presence, and the Islanders have one of the best forwards in the game to establish control in front of the crease. Just look at the consistency from this NBCSN graphic. Teams would be best served making sure Lee doesn’t get any space in front of the goalie. This isn’t exactly a new trend, but Lee uses his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame to his advantage.

Second period dominance: Part II

One day after the Islanders scored four in the middle period, they punched across three in the second. Lee, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas all scored in what felt like a sequel to Saturday’s onslaught.

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

Nelson, who’s now scored in two straight, seems to finally be hitting his stride. Although five of his eight goals this year have come on the power play, his last two have come at even strength, a welcome sign for the Islanders and their scoring depth. Overall, he’s recorded a point in three straight games.

The Islanders as a team had seven high danger chances for and one allowed in the second period, which led to a gaudy 74.84 expected goals for percentage. The analytics matched with the eye test and the results.

Fourth line does it again

Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck each had a point in Saturday’s win and both were key in Sunday’s follow-up.

Clutterbuck’s goal just past the halfway mark in the third was especially important as the Sabres pressured and made it a one-goal game. Off a Brandon Davidson turnover at the blue line, Clutterbuck took the puck in all alone, used a forehand to backhand move and roofed a goal just under the bar and over Jonas Johansson’s blocker.

The fourth line was all over the scoresheet in the three-game sweep over the Sabres. Matt Martin scored twice Thursday, Clutterbuck added two over the last two games and Cizikas added one Sunday.

Yes, the Sabres are far and away the worst team in the league right now, but getting scoring depth is still important for the Islanders.

Minus

Shaky third, uneven Sorokin

Down 3-0, the Sabres showed enough pushback to get into the game in the third period and did thanks to goals from Jeff Skinner and Colin Miller. For a brief second after Miller’s goal, it was a close 3-2 game and Buffalo conceivably stayed in the game had it not been for Clutterbuck’s back-breaking goal.

Sorokin wasn’t really tested through the first two periods and wasn’t as his best in the final 20 minutes. Miller’s goal was a weak one he’d like to have back, with the puck just sliding under the netminder’s arm. Sorokin did recover to make a strong save on Skinner later in the period to keep the Sabres at two goals, but it definitely was not the best period for the rookie. In the end, he did stop 24 of 26 shots.

But had it not been for Scott Mayfield saving a loose puck near the goal line late in the third period, it likely would’ve been three goals for Buffalo.

Skinner gets off the schneid

It was going to happen eventually, but Skinner scoring his first goal of the year has to fall into the negative category for the Islanders. Buffalo’s top forwards (Skinner, Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall) have notably been quiet this season.

It was a great individual effort going from behind the net to roofing a backhander from near the crease, but when a skater hasn’t scored in over 365 days, you get a minus for allowing that to change, as nit-picky as that might be.

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New York Islanders

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

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New York Islanders win

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Buffalo  Sabres showed some life, but the New York Islanders held them off in the end and wrapped up a three-game set with Buffalo with a 5-2 win on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.

Cal Clutterbuck came up with the most important goal of the afternoon, scoring with 7:03 left in the game and Buffalo carrying the momentum after pulling within one of the Isles. Clutterbuck was able to corral the puck after Matt Martin had flipped it out of the Islanders’ end.

Buffalo defenseman Brandon Davidson fell as he tried to keep up with Clutterbuck, which gave the Islanders forward a clear path to the net to score. Brock Nelson scored on the empty net at 17:48 to seal the win.

“It was a big goal,” Clutterbuck said about the play. “I just saw Marty flip a puck out and made a really good play under pressure. The puck took a bounce and I was fortunate enough to change directions… It worked out.”

It was the third consecutive game that the Islanders had defeated their Western New York foe by a 5-2 final. Sunday was the final meeting between the two teams on Long Island.

New York and Buffalo play two more times in the final week of the regular season at KeyBank Center.

“You see them three times in a row, all in our building,” Lee said. “It’s a mini-series. That third game is tough, especially on a back-to-back, and we knew that coming in. We did a real good job sticking to our game.”

The New York Islanders extended their hold of the East Division with Sunday’s win. They now sit four points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who are in action against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night. The Islanders took possession of the top spot in the division on Friday after Washington fell to the Boston Bruins.

Anders Lee and Casey Cizikas each scored on Sunday, and Nelson recorded his first two-goal game of the season. Ilya Sorokin picked up his fourth NHL win in goal, making 24 saves against Buffalo.

It was Sorokin’s seventh start this season.

“It’s tough to beat any team,” Nelson said. “These guys have a lot of weapons. Any team can beat anyone… so every game is going to be different every day…. We did a good job taking it one day at a time.”

Lee got the Islanders onto the board early in the second period with a redirection goal from in front of the net. Jordan Eberle sent a pass to Lee from the side of the net and the Islanders captain was able to put the puck past Buffalo starter Jonas Johansson at 5:13.

Just over a minute later the Islanders had made it a two-goal lead.

Oliver Wahlstrom was able to drive the puck into the offensive zone and then feed Nelson in the high slot. Nelson quickly got off a wrist shot that beat Johansson to make it a 2-0 game.

The goal extended Nelson’s point streak to three games and Sunday was the second consecutive game that Nelson had scored in.

The Islanders added to their lead late in the second when Cizikas scored off an impressive pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Islanders’ third line centerman backhanded a pass from the goal line over to Cizikas, who had been parked in front of the Buffalo Net.

Cizikas picked up his fourth point (one goal, three assists) in his last three games on the play and Pageau recorded his 200th career NHL assist.

Buffalo found some life in the third period to make things interesting. Jeff Skinner scored his first goal of the year at 5:41 of the final frame to break up Sorokin’s shutout bid.

Colin Miller pulled  Buffalo within one goal of the Islanders at the 9:35 mark of the third period.

Sunday’s game was nationally televised on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America. Lee and Nelson are both American-born and scored the first two goals of the game.

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New York Islanders

Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Rolls Over Buffalo Again | NYHN+

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Islanders celebrate goal against sabres

Another day, another 5-2 win for the New York Islanders against the Buffalo Sabres. It might not have been the prettiest start in the world, but the Islanders rolled with four goals in the second period to extend their point streak to seven games. “I don’t think we were sluggish,” Barry Trotz said of the…

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