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What are the New York Islanders Options for the Third Line Next Season?

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New York Islanders

When it comes to the New York Islanders third line next season, we know one thing and that is that Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be centering it. Outside of that, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will play alongside the center.

A number of players found themselves playing on the third line last season, including Derick Brassard, Tom Kuhnhackl and Leo Komarov. Brassard and Kuhnhackl are now both unrestricted free agents and Leo Komarov is one player that was rumored to be on the trading block to free up cap space for the Islanders.

That means that the Islanders would have to fill at least one winger position for the upcoming season. The flat cap has put New York in a precarious spot, so for the time being, it would likely be an internal candidate to take that spot.

So would that mean it would be Kieffer Bellows or Oliver Wahlstrom’s to lose?

At the very least, this would the best chance either of them have at finding a more permanent spot in the Islanders lineup. Both Wahlstrom and Bellows saw time in the NHL last season and Bridgeport Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson saw significant improvement over the course of the AHL season.

“Each one did slightly different things,” Thompson told NYI Hockey Now during a phone interview in September. “Each guy took steps in the right direction. I look back at our last couple of games especially.”

Wahlstrom had eight points (five goals, three assists) in the final 12 games of the AHL season and Bellows scored 22 goals over 55 AHL games. Bellows also scored his first two career NHL goals during an eight-game stint with the Islanders.

One thing that does remain a mystery in this scenario is whether Bellows’ violation of the performance-enhancing substances program over the summer would have any impact on him making the Islanders roster out of training camp. Wahlstrom was left off the team’s bubble roster during the playoffs, to the surprise of many.

Also, the Islanders tend to lean towards veteran experience and general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz might be a bit hesitant to throw one or both players into a role like that right away.

If that was to be the case, then Michael Dal Colle would certainly be in the running to take a third line spot. He has had to do it before and appeared in 53 games last season for the Islanders and was in Toronto as an extra during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

For as high as Dal Colle was drafted, he is often viewed in a less than stellar light by the fan base, but he provides a solid option for the bottom. He is a player with a bit more experience at the NHL level than Wahlstrom or Bellows as well. Dal Colle was drafted fifth overall in 2014, which comes with the expectations of someone who is a goal scorer, but the 24-year-old has developed into a guy who fits the bottom six much more comfortably in the NHL.

Ross Johnston also would be in the discussion for a role on the third line having played a bottom-six role and showing that he can do a bit more than just hit people. Johnston’s game comes with a surprising amount of speed and has the ability to the puck in the back of the net at times.

He finished the regular season with three goals in 32 NHL games. Johnston has 74 career NHL regular-season games under his belt, which is nearly as many as Dal Colle has, and he appeared in five playoff games this season.

Andrew Ladd could still very well be a part of the Islanders organization next season, but it’s unlikely that he’d be in the running for a roster spot. Ladd remains the team’s best candidate for LTIR.

Then of course there is the chance that the Islanders re-sign Brassard, who remains a free agent, and have Pageau center a line with Brassard and Komarov. Lamoriello has said that he wants everyone back for next season and it’s easy to see Brassard returning next season at a reasonable rate once the Islanders cap situation gets sorted out.

The cap will obviously play a big role in how that third line is filled out, but the Islanders do have options to fill out that line. It just may take some time before we start to see how that line will shake out.

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.

New York Islanders

Rosner: Play of Jean-Gabriel Pageau Integral in Islanders Victory Over Devils

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau

The New York Islanders did not put their best skate forward in their 2-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils last night. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant and Oliver Wahlstrom shined yet again.

But the play of a center Jean-Gabriel Pageau caught my attention.

Whether it was winning a defensive-zone faceoff, laying a hit, or scoring a big goal, Pageau seemed to always do something that positively impacted the game for the Islanders night in and night out. Pageau has been red-hot as of late and that trend continued on Tuesday.

The 28-year old forward finished the game with an assist, four shots on goal, four blocks, and one steal to cap off his impressive performance. Pageau helped the Islanders get on the board first when he helped spring Wahlstrom with a pass that led to the game’s first goal.

Unfortunately, Pageau’s outlet pass did not make the highlight reel. What also failed to make the cut was his positioning in his own zone. It allowed him to pick up a loose puck following a Nick Leddy mishandle before feeding his linemate with ease.

On that goal, Jean-Gabriel Pageau recorded his 100th career NHL assist, which came in career-game number 457. His ability to make simple plays such as that pass makes him the perfect linemate for Wahlstrom, who currently finds himself on a five-game point streak.

After the game, Wahlstrom was asked about the growing confidence he has displayed over the last couple of weeks. He attributed that boost to his teammates.

While he did not specifically mention his linemate, we all know how integral Pageau’s play has been to his growth at the NHL level.

“I’m kind of falling in love with the details of my game, the little details,” Wahlstrom said. “I feel like that’s helping. It’s bringing me more enjoyment to the game, and I’m thinking less about production and everything. I’m just focusing on the little details.”

The big takeaway is that Wahlstrom is thinking less. I attribute some of that to the ease that comes with playing alongside Pageau. When you can rely on a linemate to make those big plays to get you the puck or cover back on defense when you make a mistake, it allows you to focus on your game.

Wahlstrom does not have to worry about every little detail when he is on the ice with no. 44.

New York Islanders Proving Patience Works with Young Stars Wahlstrom, Dobson, Sorokin

Besides dishing pucks to his teammate, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had opportunities to score as well throughout the contest. All four of his shots on New Jersey netminder Aaron Dell came in-tight, with three of them being considered high danger scoring chances. But Dell answered the call with his glove each time.

The Ottawa native contributed to 54.57-percent of the Islanders scoring chances when he was on the ice according to Natural Stat Trick.

Even though he only won 47.6-percent of his draws tonight, Pageau was called upon to take nine defensive zone draws. While that percentage is not available, it shows how much his coach believes in him to come up with those big wins. And in a tight game, like we saw last night, key wins in the defensive zone are monumental to the result on the scoreboard. Pageau won 40-percent of his offensive draws, which matched his highest mark over his last eight games.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau is not just an offensive player by any means.

Many questions loomed following his arrival about his ability to fit into the defensive system head coach Barry Trotz had in place. However, Pageau’s style has fit perfectly into the system due to his awareness and positioning in his own zone.

New Jersey did not generate one high danger chance on Varlamov when Pageau’s skates were on the ice.

Being a penalty killer was a notable trait for Jean-Gabriel Pageau before joining the Islanders and that skill was on display last night in the win. It has been on display this whole season.  He helped the Islanders kill off three of the four Devil power plays, as he would have been out there for the fourth power-play opportunity had he not been the one serving the two minutes.

Pageau played 1:07 minutes on the penalty kill tonight.

To end the game, Pageau took the final faceoff at center ice after the Devils scored with 14 seconds remaining on the clock to make it a 2-1 game. Due to his awareness and hockey IQ, he pushed the puck forward to eliminate any chance of a puck coming into the Islanders’ zone.

It was a beautiful way for him to end a strong showing in New Jersey.

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New York Islanders

Islanders’ Special Teams Delivers Again in Win Over Devils

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Islanders and Devils

In what was an overall low-event hockey game, the New York Islanders’ gritted their way to a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

Goals — and shots — were both at a premium and the Islanders were up to the task even after New Jersey grabbed control in the second period.

While the Islanders’ power-play thrived in February and now has them 12th overall in the league (24.6 percent success rate), it was the penalty killers that staved off the Devils barrage in the middle period.

It was subsequent minors to Ryan Pulock and Cal Clutterbuck that put the Islanders in a precarious 5-on-3 situation in a then-scoreless game. Just off those two penalties New Jersey generated six shots on net, all saved by netminder Semyon Varlamov. But it was Varlamov who took a rare penalty with a tripping halfway through the period and put the Islanders a man short for two minutes.

In that stretch, Varlamov didn’t have to do much work, making one save on Damon Severson from the right circle before the penalty expired.

Even with all of the time on the penalty kill, the Islanders limited the number of Grade-A chances from New Jersey during those sequences. In fact, New Jersey did not register a single high danger chance for at all through the first two periods of the game and only could muster one entirely over 60 minutes.

“Oh it’s huge,” Nick Leddy said of the penalty killing unit. “[The PK] have been great all year. I try and do my best that I can when I get in, but they’ve been a huge staple for us all year and it creates momentum — I believe — for us and takes a little bit of momentum away from the power play.”

Islanders-Devils heat map

As you can see from the heat map from Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders did a good job protecting the net and crease areas and largely contained New Jersey to the perimeter. Even despite the total Corsi disadvantage, the Islanders held a 7-1 edge in high danger chances. Thanks to all the power plays and total chances, the Devils had an astronomical 88.09 expected goals percentage. But thanks to a few key saves by Varlamov and a general lack of wide-open looks, the Islanders penalty kill remained intact.

“How you manage their best, it might be for half a period, it might be five minutes, it might be a couple of shifts, if you don’t manage them very well you probably give up too much,” Barry Trotz said. “Then you’re chasing the game a little bit. We’re learning to manage our not-so-good moments and we’re taking advantage of our good moments.”

It was much of the same on New Jersey’s last power-play try in the third, which actually resulted in the Islanders getting the only shot on goal during Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s tripping minor.

For a team that’s not going to generally get into a track meet, the Islanders bread-and-butter game comes down to good positional play and being opportunistic on special teams. Since they’ve found a groove this year, that’s been the tried and true formula. After Tuesday’s night’s near shutout, the Islanders rank eighth in the NHL in PK percentage (82.8) and seventh in PK net (86.2 percent)

It was two power-play goals that lifted the Islanders to a win Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was the other side of the coin that helped get them a win in New Jersey.

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New York Islanders

CAUSE FOR CONCERN? Islanders React to News Crosby Placed on COVID List

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Sidney Crosby vs New York Islanders

While the New York Islanders were holding their pregame media availability on Tuesday, word was spreading that Sidney Crosby would be placed on the NHL COVID protocol list.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also canceled their morning skate on Tuesday as part of the COVID-19 protocols. They are still scheduled to face the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Islanders hosted Pittsburgh on Sunday at the Nassau Coliseum, where they defeated their Steel City rival 2-0. Michael Dal Colle was the only Islanders player made available to the media prior to their game with New Jersey on Tuesday and had been unaware of the developments prior to stepping to the podium.

“That’s news to me. I wasn’t aware of that,” Dal Colle said when asked by a reporter for a reaction to the news. “Obviously with the COVID protocols, I don’t know if the league is going to step in or something like that. We can only focus on what we’re doing here. We’re ready for a game tonight and it’s a big one.”

Being placed on the COVID protocol list does not mean that a player has tested positive and there are a variety of reasons why one would end up on the list.

The Islanders have managed to keep their team COVID free since the start of the season. Josh Bailey was briefly placed on the COVID protocol list last month after his son received a false-positive result.

The only direct impact that the virus has had on the team this season was in February when a pair of games against the Buffalo Sabres were postponed and rescheduled due to an outbreak on Buffalo.

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