Islanders Need Anders Lee to Produce Following Stint in COVID Protocol
The New York Islanders are coming out of their COVID-19 pause looking to rewrite their season, with the first few chapters being anything but a best seller.
Although there have been several players that have failed to live up to expectations this season, one player that needs to look significantly stronger out of this mini-break is Islanders’ captain Anders Lee. In the 12 games, he has played this season, he only has four goals to his name.
Lee was placed into COVID protocol on Nov. 19, just a day before the opening of UBS Arena, and returned to the ice on Wednesday.
The third-year captain was held off the scoreboard entirely in nine of those 12 contests, and even after missing five games, he is ranked sixth on the Islanders with 32 individual scoring chances created. Out of those opportunities, 22 of them were considered high-danger, which currently ranks second on the team.
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The problem is production, as even with these grade “A” chances, Lee was not able to find the back of the net all too much. The Islanders desperately struggled to score over the four games he missed, but by all accounts, he seems ready to go.
“All good now, ready to roll,” said Anders Lee following New York’s practice on Wednesday. “Did the best we could at home (quarantine), and now we are ready to get back at it.”
After missing the second half of the 2020-21 regular season and the entire postseason run with a torn ACL, Lee stunned trainers with how much work he put into his rehab and how quickly he was able to heal. But just because he was physically ready to play did not mean it would just be smooth sailing out there.
When the puck dropped on the 2021-22 NHL season, Lee seemed like his old self. He scored a goal despite the loss, more importantly showing that he was not just able to, but willing to go to the dirty areas again, with no real cause for concern about the left knee.
However as the season progressed, Lee struggled to play his game. Besides a few games in mid-October, his production has been anything but consistent.
This has not just been an issue for Anders Lee, as New York has scored the least amount of goals in the NHL this season (32), scoring just 1.88 goals per game, which ranks 31st among the 32 NHL clubs.
But someone needs to step up and Lee taking his game to another level will not just benefit his individual game, but the game of Mathew Barzal as well.
Let’s call it as it is.
Barzal is a star in the NHL, but given his skill as a playmaker, he needs guys around him that can finish off the chances he creates. We saw it last season and we have seen it this season, he cannot carry the offense on his own.
When Lee landed in COVID protocol, Barzal struggled immensely, with no points over his last four contests. Whoever was put on his line, whether it was AHL call-up Richard Panik or the grizzled veteran in Zach Parise, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz was not seeing production.
The situation began to be eerily similar to what the Islander dealt with last season when Lee was missing.
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Even when the goals are not coming his way, Lee’s presence on the ice forces the opposition to pay attention to him. That allows Barzal to have a little more space to maneuver, with Barzal being a player that does not need much to create a high profile chance.
This season the duo of Lee and Barzal has not been particularly good.
When on the ice together, the Islanders own a Corsi For under 50%, not something that should be the case when Barzal is on the ice. They have been outscored 11-9, failing to own the majority of scoring chances.
With the Islanders’ top scorer, second-line centerman Brock Nelson on the shelf with a lower-body injury, the Islanders desperately need their top line to be a top line. It may start with Barzal, but certainly needs to end more times than not with Lee.
New York resumes their season on Thursday with a matchup against the San Jose Sharks as Lee looks to help the Islanders end their eight-game slide and start making strides to climb up the Metropolitan Division standings.
“It’s going to be tough to get out of but nothing insurmountable or anything like that,” said Lee. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played. Our best hockey is in front of us.”