It was a game that Oliver Wahlstrom needed to have and it was an effort that the New York Islanders needed to see from someone after two straight games of sloppy play to start the year.
Wahlstrom’s first breakout game of the season on Tuesday helped snap a two-game losing streak for the Islanders to open the season. He scored two goals on eight shots and played a factor in three of the four tallies for the Islanders in their 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Through the first two games of the young NHL season, the New York Islanders played anything but Islanders hockey. More often than not, the Islanders found themselves hemmed in their own zone, which hindered the ability to garner offensive chances.
Whether it was making heads-up plays without the puck or using his natural goal-scoring ability to light the lamp, Wahlstrom looked like a complete player on Tuesday night. It was a critical sign for the Islanders to see with so much riding on this season.
The Islanders are a cup favorite and Wahlstrom’s play will be a big part of whether or not they succeed this season. Head coach Barry Trotz needed someone in the lineup to step up and get the offense going and that player has been Wahlstrom.
Whether it was making heads-up plays without the puck or using his raw goal-scoring ability to light the lamp, Wahlstrom looked like a complete player Tuesday night.
It was his play without the puck that should give islanders fans something to really buzz about. It was Wahlstrom’s hard work behind the net that allowed Anthony Beauvillier to retrieve a loose puck and beat Chicago netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Islanders the lead early in the second.
“When Wahlly is moving his feet good things happen,” Trotz said after practice on Wednesday. “The puck follows him. He creates some stuff and he also gets some opportunities. Last night he was skating. He wasn’t watching the game. He was a high participant and that goal of Beauvillier’s was a prime example.”
Trotz added: “That’s when Wahlly is most effective. When he’s watching a game and he’s not participating at the level he was last night, he just blends in. But when he’s a high participant he can make some things happen.”
Wahlstrom’s first goal of the game showed the growth of the 21-year-old forward from last season to this one. Wahlstrom picked off a Henrik Borgstrom pass inside the blue line before making a great play to push the puck around a sliding defender, before rifling the puck through the wickets of Fleury.
Steals. Dekes. Scores.
Oliver Wahlstrom does it all here. #NHLFaceOff
— NHL (@NHL) October 20, 2021
His second goal of the game may have looked easy on the surface, but it was anything but.
Thanks to an excellent feed by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Oliver Wahlstrom stared down an open cage from inside the left circle. Because of his quick release and accuracy, he was able to put the puck over the sliding defenseman and just out of the reach of a diving Fleury.
Goal ✌️ for Wahlstrom pic.twitter.com/Ehu3n1oHpb
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 20, 2021
The Islanders entered this season without having acquired the “elite sniper” that many had been clamoring for.
From what we saw of Wahlstrom last season, to what we are seeing early on this season, there is no reason he cannot become that player for the Islanders. The biggest part of Wahlstrom’s game that he needs to work on is being a more consistent offensive threat.
There are games when the eyes are glued to him when he hits the ice and others when he is not noticeable at all.
With veteran Zach Parise on his wing, along with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Wahlstrom now has two linemates that can help him take his game to the next level.
“I’m playing with really good players right now,” Wahlstrom said. “Just learn from them, build off of it and just stay consistent.”
Oliver Wahlstrom showed potential last season for the Islanders.
He had 21 points in 44 games and, if in the lineup on a more consistent basis, Wahlstrom may have finished with the most goals on the Islanders come the end of the regular season. However, the underlying fact was that 14 of his 21 points came on the powerplay.
The Islanders needed to see Wahlstrom produce five on five consistently, and he indeed showed signs he is more than capable of doing just that.
Wahlstrom has caught fire, with three goals in four periods, two of the three coming at even strength.
There is no reason the Islanders offense, the deepest forward group that general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Trotz have had since joining the Islanders in 2018, should have to rely on the play of one player, a 21-year old, to win hockey games.
But by Wahlstrom stepping up in a big way Tuesday, he has instilled confidence in his coaching staff, his teammates, and himself that if he does the little things on a nightly basis, he can play a major role in turning this slow start on the road into a success by the end of it.