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What to Make of Oliver Wahlstrom’s First Night on Islanders Top Line



For the first time, New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom slotted in on the top line when the Islanders squared off against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. As the Islanders get set to face off against the Vegas Golden Knights today at 2 pm, let’s look back on Wahlstrom’s five-on-five play from Thursday’s 3-1 win over Boston.

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The 21-year old forward did not have the luxury of playing alongside centerman Mat Barzal, who is currently in COVID protocol. Instead, the top line was centered by Jean-Gabriel Pageau with Anders Lee remaining at left wing.

Throughout the contest, Wahlstrom showed an added boost of confidence in the offensive zone. With the puck on his stick, he not only kept that shoot-first mentality that has given him success at the NHL level but also showcased his creativity as well.

In the first period, a little dangle created an excellent scoring chance for himself but was turned aside by Boston netminder Linus Ullmark.

Wahlstrom ended the night leading the Islanders in a majority of the offensive categories. At even-strength, Wahlstrom led all Islanders with four individual scoring chances, three high-danger chances, five shot attempts, three shots on goal, and an Expected Goals For (xGF) of 0.42 in 11:22 TOI (5 on 5).

His TOI was not a reflection of his play individually, but more due to the play of his line.

When the puck was not on Wahlstrom’s stick, he still found ways to get involved.

Early and often, Wahlstrom was hard on the forecheck. He was also filling lanes correctly for his teammates, as he made himself an option more times than not when his linemates had the puck on their stick in transition.

Even on plays that did not work out, like an odd-man rush with Lee as the puck carrier in the second period, Wahlstrom went where he needed to, towards the back post. That forced the Boston defenseman to pay close attention to him, giving Lee a prime shooting lane.

Lee chose to pass instead.

Wahlstrom ended the night with zero giveaways, the eighth consecutive game he has accomplished that feat.

As we have come to see often, head coach Barry Trotz has cut back the minutes of young players if they were not playing the way he wanted to. We saw that in the Islanders 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, as Bellows only saw 55 seconds of game action in the second period.

Wahlstrom did what was asked of him hence his continued playing time.

Now onto the performance of his line.

The Islanders top line played a total of 6:30 TOI together in the win but gave up 14 shot attempts with only three of their own. While only seven made their way towards Islander netminder Semyon Varlamov, Boston had a Corsi For % (CF%) of 82.4% when this threesome was on the ice, their highest mark by far on the night.

Per NHL Analytics Glossary, a Corsi For player percentage over 50% indicates his team is generating more shot attempts than the opposition when the player is on the ice.

Looking at the individual statistics per Natural Stat Trick, Boston’s third line of Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek, and Nick Foligno were amongst the forwards on the ice the most when number 26 was out there.

They combined for a CF% of 82.15 while Wahlstrom was on the ice, which showed their ability to get more shot attempts and control the pace of play.

Lee and Pageau were not that too far behind in this category, which illustrated that it was a line issue.

The Islanders top line played the second-fewest minutes of the four lines, as the identity line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck had a strong showing along with the second line of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey.

The Islanders were outshot in the second and third period, by wide margins. While that was due to the fact that Boston pushed hard given the score, it’s also the style the Islanders like to play.

The defensive-minded system under Trotz relies heavily on the play of its defenders and netminders. Trotz would rather see his team allow an abundance of shots from the outside rather than overcommit on plays at their own blue line and get caught out of position.

For Wahlstrom, his first game on the top line was a game to build on. We shall see if Trotz elects to keep him up there when the Islanders face Vegas at UBS Arena today.


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