Last week in a loss against the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz declared it felt like he had just one line on the ice that was generating something positive.
And for the large part of this season, Trotz’s words have rang true.
Mathew Barzal’s torrid start to the season (10 points in nine games) has almost singlehandedly carried the Islanders’ entire offense. At 2.11 goals per game, the Islanders are only better than the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks in the scoring department.
Not exactly the ideal way to begin a shortened season.
“I think the guys are recognizing how hard you have to work, how you have to play and how detailed you have to be,” Trotz said after Sunday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. “And we’re not detailed or we have individuals who aren’t detailed it seems to be biting us right now, we’re not getting away with it.”
As late as the Islanders run in the bubble postseason, the team was getting contributions up and down the lineup. The team’s leading scorers during the run to the Eastern Conference Final? Josh Bailey (20 points) and Brock Nelson (18).
Through 18 games, those two have combined for just six points. And Bailey, who was held goalless until Sunday when he scored his first of the year playing alongside Barzal and the first line. And both of Nelson’s goals have come on the power play.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 1, 2021
Anthony Beauvillier has missed time with an injury, but even during his first five games, he had only one assist.
Yes, the Islanders have put up paltry numbers as a whole offensively, but part of that has been inconsistent play from that second line.
In just isolating Bailey and Nelson, the two have played together for over 80 minutes this year at 5-on-5, and have a Corsi For percentage and 44.93 and an expected goals percentage of 49.87. They have generated more high danger chances for than against (16-9), but so far, they haven’t been producing a ton together as you’d expect. Especially after the postseason run they had with Beauvillier, they just haven’t had the offensive numbers you want from a top-six group.
Trotz dipped into the blender a bit for Sunday’s game, putting Bailey on the top unit and Nelson going on a line with Jordan Eberle and newcomer Dmytro Timashov. The latter only received 7:13 of total ice time overall and only 3:39 of 5-on-5 with his linemates. Nelson and Eberle spent the bulk of the night together, but even they didn’t really bump up the production and shot generation of that second line.
So what is it going to take for this line to get going? Well, it should probably go without saying, but there needs to be more pucks to the net. The only three players on the Islanders’ roster with more than 20 shots on goal this year are Barzal, Eberle and Lee. One of Nelson’s best assets is his shot, and so far this year, he’s recorded 15 shots on goal, which is almost a full shot per game less than he was last regular season (2.57 compared to 1.67). It sounds simple and almost too much like hockey speak, but Nelson needs to test the goalie more.
If Trotz decides to go with Bailey on the top line going forward, that means Nelson is likely to see his time alongside Eberle. It might not have been perfect in the first go-around in Philly, but it’ll be interesting to see if that makes a tangible difference for Nelson and the second line.
If that doesn’t move the needle in the right direction, could it be worth moving Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who at times has played with some non-productive wingers this year, to the second line? Timashov and Austin Czarnik made their season debuts Sunday, and maybe they can get things going. They have combined for 30 points in their NHL careers, so that doesn’t feel as likely. Getting Beauvillier back should help, but his production before the injury wasn’t where you’d expect it to be.
At this point, nothing should be off the table to get the New York Islanders back in the win column. But getting pucks into the back of the net needs to be part of the solution. And right now the second line isn’t doing enough.