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New York Islanders

Islanders Put Big Guns Together For Needed Offensive Firepower



Photos courtesy of The AP/ Frank Franklin III, Noah K. Murray

DALLAS — For much of this year, the New York Islanders have heavily relied on Brock Nelson, Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal to produce the bulk of their offense. 

So, it’s only appropriate that as the team arrives in Texas for a date with the Dallas Stars on Monday night, head coach Patrick Roy puts his big guns together on the same line in an attempt to break the Islanders out of their recent scoring slump. 

“I like the speed that they have,” Roy said. “The three of them are very good skaters… I’m curious to see it and like trying it.”

Over their last two games, the Islanders have been held off the scoreboard at even strength. After being shut out by the St. Louis Blues last Thursday, they were nearly blanked for the second straight game on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning until scoring a pair of goals in the third period, one at six-on-five and another at six-on-four. 

It was against Tampa Bay that Roy first assembled Nelson, Horvat and Barzal as a line. The decision made sense late in the game, but to now put them together for a full 60 minutes emphasizes just how desperate the Islanders are for offense–and wins–at this juncture. 

“We all have skill,” Horvat said. “To add more offense, we have to get the ball rolling. We need to score more goals in order to win some hockey games, so hopefully, we can do that here tonight.”

Horvat and Barzal have been attached at the hip for essentially the entire year on the top line, with Anders Lee getting the majority of the minutes on their left wing. With Nelson now joining them, it shakes up the entire lineup.

Lee will slide down and play on a line centered by Jean-Gabriel Pageau featuring Kyle Palmieri. Meanwhile, Casey Cizikas moves up from the fourth line to play with Pierre Engvall and  Simon Holmstrom, while Kyle MacLean slots in between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. 

The switch also takes Nelson out of his natural position of center. Rarely in the NHL has Nelson not played in the middle of the ice and only did so a few times during his college days at the University of North Dakota more than a decade ago. 

“It’ll be a little different,” Nelson said. “Just in terms of who you’re taking [defensively]and your responsibilities as a winger. But I think Bo and I will be interchanging quite a bit. I might end up low, and he’ll be on the wing. We’ll just try reading off one another with good communication to fill the spots that we need and try to limit their chances.” 

As uncomfortable as it may be to start, Nelson has the ability to make up for his unfamiliarity as the Islanders’ leading goal scorer (25). With him alongside Horvat and Barzal, it places 64 of the Islanders’ 166 goals this season (38.5 %) together on one line.  

“For me and Bo, it’ll be easy to have Nelson out there with us,” Barzal said. “If you look at it objectively, the skill sets that we have on our line, I think we can be really dangerous.”

As for the rest of the team, the pressure is not off them. If anything, it’s only added, especially considering their lack of production is the reason why the Islanders are here in the first place. 

“That line is obviously going to be fun to watch, but every line has a role,” Pageau said. “To have success and to win games, you can not only be one line. I think everyone will have to step up and do their job.”

The Islanders (23-20-14) and Stars (35-16-8)  will drop the puck from American Airlines Center in Dallas at 8 p.m. EST. 

Notes: Hudson Fasching (LTIR, lower-body) is currently playing with the Bridgeport Islanders of the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment. He is eligible to rejoin the Islanders for their upcoming game on Thursday in Detroit, but a decision on whether or not that will happen has yet to have been made, according to Roy.




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