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New York Islanders

Veterans Leading By Example, Why Wins Still Matter

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New York Islanders

It may be mid-March, but the New York Islanders are finally playing to the level that everyone expected. Their latest six-game homestand saw the Islanders perform to a 4-2-0 record, as they outscored their opponents 24-14 over that span and have won three straight. Certain veterans stepped up, especially in Mathew Barzal’s absence for the first four games and although it may be too late to save the season, these wins still matter.

And it starts with the play of New York Islanders captain Anders Lee.

After he missed the Saturday matinee against the St. Louis Blues on Sat, March 5 (personal reasons), Anders Lee broke out in a big way. Over the last four games, Lee has scored seven goals with an assist, as he now has 21 goals on the season. He recorded his first career hat trick in the 6-0 stomping of the Columbus Blue Jackets this past Thursday and scored the majority of his goals from his office.

Was Lee still fighting the mental and physical aspect of his ACL tear from a year ago? Regardless, he flourished this past week and has led by example.

Alternate captain and New York Islanders goal leader Brock Nelson was red hot this homestand with four goals and an assist. He lit the lamp in four straight contests from the St. Louis Blues game to the Winnipeg Jets game, as he served as the no. 1 center with Barzal out. Nelson also won 62.8 percent of his draws.

“The best way to lead is to lead by example. You know you can talk a good game, but if you’re not the good example, then it’s hard to follow, and you know, we’ve had them leading (Lee, Nelson), especially with Barzal out,” Trotz said. “They’ve really stepped up. Lee came back from taking some personal time that he needed to do, and he’s come back, and he’s been really good. We shuffled the lines, and we’ve asked people to step up.

“They’ve (Lee, Nelson) increased their roles a little bit, and they’ve done a really good job. And when the leaders are doing that, it’s easy to follow.”

Forward and alternate captain Josh Bailey, whose play had been uninspiring for most of the season, has also found his game. All it took was one goal against the Blue Jackets to get the confidence going. He followed that performance up with a two-goal affair against the Winnipeg Jets the following day and recorded an assist Sunday night against the Ducks to push his point streak to a modest three games.

Veteran Kyle Palmieri recorded assists in three straight games before scoring twice against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. His goals showed off his impressive shots. In 14 games since returning to the lineup, Palmieri has eight goals and has played like “Playoff Kyle”, the type of player the Islanders envisioned when general manager Lou Lamoriello inked him to a four-year deal this past offseason.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who flew under the radar this homestand, has points in four straight, with a goal and four assists. Pageau, for the most part, has centered Josh Bailey and Kyle Palmieri, a line that has been clicking. Pageau has won 52-percent of his draws over the last six games.

We cannot forget about the performance of Anthony Beauvillier, who has points in each of the last four games, with seven assists. His speed and vision has been on display and for a player that showed an inconsistent game for the majority of the season has been able to flip a switch and the Islanders have prospered because of it.

This homestand also saw Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock reunited starting against the Colorado Avalanche (5-4 loss), and it has made a heck of a difference for the New York Islanders. Not only have they been their lockdown self, but they have been on the ice for eight of the 11 (5 on 5) goals the Islanders have scored over that span as they have helped the transition game immensely.

They’ve made it rather difficult, as usual, for the opposition to cross over the Islanders blue line and, if so, forced them to the outside.

Veteran netminder Semyon Varlamov, who has had a solid season despite his numbers (given th defense in front of him), put on a show against the Colorado Avalanche (stopped 44 of 49) last Monday. And then, he put together a mighty fine performance against the Winnipeg Jets this past Friday, having stopped 27 of 29 in the 5-2 win.

Netminder Ilya Sorokin won all three of his starts on the homestand, with a .966 SV% and a 1.34 GAA. He shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets this past Thursday for his sixth shutout of the season and won his 20th game of 2021-22 Sunday night as he stopped 39 of 42 against the Ducks.

“Outstanding, both of them. I mean, you can’t win in this league without good goaltending,” Trotz said. “It’s just, it’s almost impossible. And they’ve been outstanding.”

As for the youngster Noah Dobson, he was dynamite with points in five of the six games. He recorded a goal and five assists alongside Andy Greene and then Zdeno Chara (returned vs. WPG).

“I think anytime you have a good game or a few good games in a row, you start to find your energy a little bit, the room’s lighter,” Anders Lee said following the win over Anaheim. “You know, it’s not dragging on you. You look forward to the next game as much as possible and to keep that feeling going, and I think we’ve done that of late this week.”

“It kind of started with a little bit of just battling, unfortunately, lost against Colorado but not giving up and continuing to go after it and kind of taking th end of that game into the next few ones. And we’ve just built on that and something we’ve wanted to do all years build our game, and I think we’re starting to do that, the right way.”

Even with the strong homestand, the New York Islanders still find themselves 18 points out of a wild-card spot with three games in hand on the Washing Capitals, their next opponent (Tuesday, 7 PM @ WSH). It matters immensely.

Playoffs or not, it matters how the Islanders end their 2021-22 campaign.

This team is not tanking, nor should it. The success from here on out, if the success continues, illustrates that this season is a “one-off” if you want to look at it that way as nothing went right in the first half, and they had been behind the eight-ball ever since.

Certain players who struggled in the first half, bringing about misconceptions of their status, have turned a page. Yeah, it was one week, and the sample size has not been big enough to “throw out” each players first-half performance, but it’s a positive sign that the team that went to back-to-back semifinals is still in there somewhere.

Although the Islanders need to bring in certain pieces and let certain pieces go, this team does not require a massive rebuild.

This team needs a season that does not have all the starts and stops, the biggest issue that has plagued the Islanders this season.

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