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New York Islanders

Shake it: Adjustments look to bring Islanders’ second line back into the fold

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Brock nelson

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.

ON THE ROAD: Islanders End Time on the Road with Overtime Loss to Philly

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.”

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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.

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.

Stats with Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson.

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.

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New York Islanders

Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Tops Buffalo … Again

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Islanders sweep Sabres

No, this is not a copy-and-paste job from the past two games. The New York Islanders did in fact beat the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, for the third straight game on Sunday afternoon.

It was again a second period of dominance for the Islanders, who rattled off three goals to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish.

In what has probably felt like Groundhog Day for Buffalo, it was another game of missed opportunities and a (mostly) quiet effort from its superstars. The Islanders now move to 10-0-2 at Nassau Coliseum this season as they’ve continually dominated on home ice.

Let’s take a dive into what went right and wrong for the Islanders in this Plus/Minus breakdown.

 

Plus

Anders Lee: O Captain! My Captain! 

Anders Lee has made a home office for himself in front of the net throughout his career. In 2021, he’s continued that theme and thrived in the dirty areas.

His goal 5:13 into the second period Sunday gave him a goal in back-to-back games and points in four straight contests. Now with a team-leading 12 goals this season, he’s on pace to top his 20 in 68 games from last season.

Every hockey coach will wax poetic on the importance of net-front presence, and the Islanders have one of the best forwards in the game to establish control in front of the crease. Just look at the consistency from this NBCSN graphic. Teams would be best served making sure Lee doesn’t get any space in front of the goalie. This isn’t exactly a new trend, but Lee uses his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame to his advantage.

Second period dominance: Part II

One day after the Islanders scored four in the middle period, they punched across three in the second. Lee, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas all scored in what felt like a sequel to Saturday’s onslaught.

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

Nelson, who’s now scored in two straight, seems to finally be hitting his stride. Although five of his eight goals this year have come on the power play, his last two have come at even strength, a welcome sign for the Islanders and their scoring depth. Overall, he’s recorded a point in three straight games.

The Islanders as a team had seven high danger chances for and one allowed in the second period, which led to a gaudy 74.84 expected goals for percentage. The analytics matched with the eye test and the results.

Fourth line does it again

Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck each had a point in Saturday’s win and both were key in Sunday’s follow-up.

Clutterbuck’s goal just past the halfway mark in the third was especially important as the Sabres pressured and made it a one-goal game. Off a Brandon Davidson turnover at the blue line, Clutterbuck took the puck in all alone, used a forehand to backhand move and roofed a goal just under the bar and over Jonas Johansson’s blocker.

The fourth line was all over the scoresheet in the three-game sweep over the Sabres. Matt Martin scored twice Thursday, Clutterbuck added two over the last two games and Cizikas added one Sunday.

Yes, the Sabres are far and away the worst team in the league right now, but getting scoring depth is still important for the Islanders.

Minus

Shaky third, uneven Sorokin

Down 3-0, the Sabres showed enough pushback to get into the game in the third period and did thanks to goals from Jeff Skinner and Colin Miller. For a brief second after Miller’s goal, it was a close 3-2 game and Buffalo conceivably stayed in the game had it not been for Clutterbuck’s back-breaking goal.

Sorokin wasn’t really tested through the first two periods and wasn’t as his best in the final 20 minutes. Miller’s goal was a weak one he’d like to have back, with the puck just sliding under the netminder’s arm. Sorokin did recover to make a strong save on Skinner later in the period to keep the Sabres at two goals, but it definitely was not the best period for the rookie. In the end, he did stop 24 of 26 shots.

But had it not been for Scott Mayfield saving a loose puck near the goal line late in the third period, it likely would’ve been three goals for Buffalo.

Skinner gets off the schneid

It was going to happen eventually, but Skinner scoring his first goal of the year has to fall into the negative category for the Islanders. Buffalo’s top forwards (Skinner, Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall) have notably been quiet this season.

It was a great individual effort going from behind the net to roofing a backhander from near the crease, but when a skater hasn’t scored in over 365 days, you get a minus for allowing that to change, as nit-picky as that might be.

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New York Islanders

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

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New York Islanders win

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Buffalo  Sabres showed some life, but the New York Islanders held them off in the end and wrapped up a three-game set with Buffalo with a 5-2 win on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.

Cal Clutterbuck came up with the most important goal of the afternoon, scoring with 7:03 left in the game and Buffalo carrying the momentum after pulling within one of the Isles. Clutterbuck was able to corral the puck after Matt Martin had flipped it out of the Islanders’ end.

Buffalo defenseman Brandon Davidson fell as he tried to keep up with Clutterbuck, which gave the Islanders forward a clear path to the net to score. Brock Nelson scored on the empty net at 17:48 to seal the win.

“It was a big goal,” Clutterbuck said about the play. “I just saw Marty flip a puck out and made a really good play under pressure. The puck took a bounce and I was fortunate enough to change directions… It worked out.”

It was the third consecutive game that the Islanders had defeated their Western New York foe by a 5-2 final. Sunday was the final meeting between the two teams on Long Island.

New York and Buffalo play two more times in the final week of the regular season at KeyBank Center.

“You see them three times in a row, all in our building,” Lee said. “It’s a mini-series. That third game is tough, especially on a back-to-back, and we knew that coming in. We did a real good job sticking to our game.”

The New York Islanders extended their hold of the East Division with Sunday’s win. They now sit four points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who are in action against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night. The Islanders took possession of the top spot in the division on Friday after Washington fell to the Boston Bruins.

Anders Lee and Casey Cizikas each scored on Sunday, and Nelson recorded his first two-goal game of the season. Ilya Sorokin picked up his fourth NHL win in goal, making 24 saves against Buffalo.

It was Sorokin’s seventh start this season.

“It’s tough to beat any team,” Nelson said. “These guys have a lot of weapons. Any team can beat anyone… so every game is going to be different every day…. We did a good job taking it one day at a time.”

Lee got the Islanders onto the board early in the second period with a redirection goal from in front of the net. Jordan Eberle sent a pass to Lee from the side of the net and the Islanders captain was able to put the puck past Buffalo starter Jonas Johansson at 5:13.

Just over a minute later the Islanders had made it a two-goal lead.

Oliver Wahlstrom was able to drive the puck into the offensive zone and then feed Nelson in the high slot. Nelson quickly got off a wrist shot that beat Johansson to make it a 2-0 game.

The goal extended Nelson’s point streak to three games and Sunday was the second consecutive game that Nelson had scored in.

The Islanders added to their lead late in the second when Cizikas scored off an impressive pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Islanders’ third line centerman backhanded a pass from the goal line over to Cizikas, who had been parked in front of the Buffalo Net.

Cizikas picked up his fourth point (one goal, three assists) in his last three games on the play and Pageau recorded his 200th career NHL assist.

Buffalo found some life in the third period to make things interesting. Jeff Skinner scored his first goal of the year at 5:41 of the final frame to break up Sorokin’s shutout bid.

Colin Miller pulled  Buffalo within one goal of the Islanders at the 9:35 mark of the third period.

Sunday’s game was nationally televised on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America. Lee and Nelson are both American-born and scored the first two goals of the game.

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New York Islanders

Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Rolls Over Buffalo Again | NYHN+

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Islanders celebrate goal against sabres

Another day, another 5-2 win for the New York Islanders against the Buffalo Sabres. It might not have been the prettiest start in the world, but the Islanders rolled with four goals in the second period to extend their point streak to seven games. “I don’t think we were sluggish,” Barry Trotz said of the…

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