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Why Josh Bailey is Still on New York Islanders ‘Top’ Line



New York Islanders, Bo Horvat & Josh Bailey (Photo couresty of New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders, Bo Horvat (Photo couresty of New York Islanders Twitter)

This isn’t an article to tell you that Josh Bailey is on a line with New York Islanders newcomer Bo Horvat and face-of-the-franchise forward Mathew Barzal because he deserves to be on that line.

People need to understand the why part of that equation, as this comment about where Bailey is in the lineup is the top comment from the New York Islanders faithful.

It’s a fair one and one that should be discussed in much greater detail than what we will dive into right now.

Before we dive into the story, one thing worth mentioning is that the Islanders are a four-line team. The “top line” is whatever line is hot at that moment, which, until Horvat arrived, was the Nelson line.

When we list the Islanders’ lines from practice or morning skate, the order of the line doesn’t mean that Barzal is the top line for that upcoming game.

That goes for the entire season.

Even when the Barzal line struggled, we still listed him and his linemates at the top.

Now to the story.

The talk from the Islanders head coach Lane Lambert, which echoed that of former head coach Barry Trotz, is that Josh Bailey is a cerebral player, and his game fits perfectly with the kind of game Barzal plays. And now, with Horvat there, it’s another player where Bailey’s strong passing skills can be of use.

Through four games, a 2-1-1 record, Bailey has two assists, both to Kyle Palmieri. He has turned the puck over 10 times in the three games and has been on the ice for five goals for and five goals against (plus/- 0).

He hasn’t been the reason for their last two losses, but he’s played a part.

However, at Monday’s practice, Lambert kept his lineup the same, which added more fuel to the fire the Islanders’ fan base had started.

It’s really simple why Bailey remains with Horvat and Barzal and has not much to do with Bailey other than him being known for his passing.

It’s about the roster, its health, and the lack of NHL-ready prospects. 

For a long stretch, from around late November to just recently, Lambert had to deal with a plethora of injuries leading to veterans and call-ups playing in new spots on a nightly basis as the first-year head coach tried to find the best combinations.

When he returned from the All-Star break with a new weapon, Bo Horvat was immediately added to the Barzal and Bailey “duo.” Just as much as Horvat should have and has complemented Barzal’s game, there was no reason why Bailey couldn’t benefit either.

That’s what Lambert was hoping for.

“This is a great opportunity for him,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said following morning skate up in Philadelphia before the first game back when asked if this is a chance for Bailey to get going. “Yeah, we’re certainly looking forward to that happening.”

Bailey’s picked up his play in spurts, looking much stronger in the first two games of the week (two wins) than the last two (blown-lead losses).

Lambert took over as head coach after four years as an assistant on Long Island, so he knew these players, and their tendencies. Lambert has taken a bit from Trotz over their 11 years together, dating back to their Nashville Predators days.

One thing he still has in place is the Trotz-esque strategy of duos rather than trios.

For example, Zach Parise and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson before Kyle Palmieri joined that line. Now Hudson Fasching and Casey Cizikas are playing well with one another, to close out that list.

As for the third member of those lines, Simon Holmstrom has played games with Barzal, but he needed help to keep up with the speedster, and offense wasn’t happening at a high enough rate. 

Holmstrom’s game fits more into what Parise and Pageau do, that shutdown brand of hockey that goes up against the best the opposition has to offer. It’s not a perfect trio every night, but one that Lambert relies on. 

When in the lineup, Hudson Fasching has played bottom-six minutes in Holmstrom’s spot and on the fourth line. Since returning from the All-Star break, Lambert has played him on the fourth line and likes what he can bring in Cal Clutterbuck’s absence.

Since Kyle Palmieri returned from injury eight games ago, Lambert immediately put him with Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, and that line has been dynamite, outscoring opponents 8-3.

That left Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier as the two logical options.

This season, Barzal’s duo for 30 games was Oliver Wahlstrom, but he went down with an injury on Dec. 27 and is likely out for the season.

In his absence, we saw Barzal go through linemates like clockwork, not jelling enough with anyone to keep the lines intact.

As the final week before the break commenced, Bailey and Beauvillier were Barzal’s linemates. Beauvillier had just one assist in overtime of the Vegas Golden Knights game on a Barzal snipe, but two days later, he was shipped out in a package for Horvat.

Now with all the other lines settled for now, that left Bailey to play alongside the newest duo.

Since returning from the break, Lambert has used these same offensive lines, with the group scoring 14 goals in four games, 3.5 goals per, which the Islanders hadn’t done since earlier in the season.

The scoring hasn’t been one-dimensional: Bo Horvat (3), Mathew Barzal (2), Brock Nelson (2), Kyle Palmieri (2), Zach Parise (1), Simon Holmstrom (1), Matt Martin (1), Noah Dobson (1), and Samuel Bolduc (1).

While the forwards have played a part, the last two losses have been much more on the back-end members in terms of positioning and doing their jobs.

As for the group that wants Bailey out of the lineup, Lambert uses Ross Johnston sparingly, even when he slots in, averaging 8:15 minutes over 11 games. No one in the AHL has the experience he has as the Islanders try to push for a playoff spot with 26 games to go.

Bailey has struggled, but throwing another prospect in the mix on the Horvat line, which has been strong out of the gate, might do more harm than good right now.

So unless another line starts to falter, expect Josh Bailey to remain on Horvat’s wing for the foreseeable future unless general manager Lou Lamoriello brings someone else in at the 2023 NHL Deadline on Mar. 3. 


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