From his time doing fancy spin moves on the ice of T.D. Garden at the age of nine, to his first season donning the blue and orange at age 19, New York Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom has always been a goal scorer.
He’s always had an eye on goal, a shoot-first mentality that the Islanders have been longing for. But he’s also been one-dimensional in that regard.
“He’s got to continue to evolve his game by learning how to play with different sets of guys so that he’s just not an ‘I’m a shooter, get me the puck kind of guy’,” Trotz said following a win against Ottawa back on Dec. 7. “He feels he’s a goal scorer and when he’s not scoring, that’s all he can think about.”
Over Wahlstrom’s first 20 games of the season, he scored seven of his eight goals but had failed to record a single assist. The Islanders offense over that span scored a mere 1.9 goals per game with a record of 5-10-5.
When Wahlstrom was on the ice at even strength through the first 20 games, opponents outscored the Islanders 9-8. The opponent’s chances were plenty with 98 scoring chances, 36 being considered high danger.
While the Islanders had 99 chances of their own with no. 26 on the ice, that style of play does not lead to long-term or even short-term success, especially in a system built on a detailed defensive structure.
But Wahlstrom’s game has drastically changed as of late and it has paid dividends for the Islanders.
Yeah, the goals have not come at the rate Wahlstrom wished, but his ability to still contribute has shown an evolution in his game.
Wahlstrom’s offensive production has come by way of assists, with seven helpers over his last six games. The abundance of assists is a rather new thing for Wahlstrom, but the importance is the timeliness of these assists.
Of these seven assists (the only assists he has recorded this season) three have tied the game, two have given the Islanders the lead, and the other two have put games out of reach.
And because of the way Wahlstrom has played, the Islanders’ offense has become stronger than it had been all season, and New York has picked up critical points in the process.
The Islanders are 3-2-1 over their last six games and have scored 3.17 goals per game. The opponents have out-chanced the Islanders 36-32 when Wahlstrom has been on the ice at even strength over that span, but the Islanders have won the goal-game, having outscored their opponents 6-2.
In the Islanders’ last game back on Sunday, Wahlstrom added two assists in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The second helper helped the Islanders take the lead with 2:20 to go in the third period.
After hard work down low behind Vegas’ net, Wahlstrom came away with the puck and found his linemate, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, all alone atop Vegas’ crease.
Wahlstrom with the setup and JGP with the finish pic.twitter.com/TDdX33UlUh
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) December 19, 2021
The Islanders did not hold onto the lead, but it was a gritty play and one that allowed for the Islanders to gain a crucial point in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Wahlstrom’s second assist of the contest came back in the first period as he picked up the secondary assist on Brock Nelson’s power-play goal.
Speaking of the power play, the Islanders have scored four power-play goals over their last 15 opportunities (6 games). That equates to 26.67%, as the power play, as a whole, has taken significant strides after a nightmarish start to the season.
Wahlstrom has assisted on three of those four power-play goals.
The lack of goals for Wahlstrom as of late has not come due to a pass-first mentality.
Wahlstrom has averaged 2.5 shots per game over the last six games, which includes a game against the New Jersey Devils in which he failed to record a shot. The zero in the shot department was only the third time in 26 games that no. 26 was held without one.
The 2.5 shots per game is also the number of shots that Wahlstrom averaged through the first 20 games of the season, so there has been no drop-off in his shooting.
Trotz has shown added faith in Wahlstrom, as he placed him on the top line in the 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins last Thursday and in the loss to Vegas on Sunday. He would only get that opportunity if Trotz trusted his two-way game.
Wahlstrom’s ability to take criticism and make corrections has shown an evolution in his game and one that will need to keep evolving as the season continues if the Islanders want to continue to build on their recent success when the schedule resumes.
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