In Andy Greene’s debut with the New York Islanders, it was evident that the defensive structure head coach Barry Trotz implemented was back on track. And while it’s great that one of the on-ice issues seems to be trending in the right direction, the long-existing issue with scoring remains a problem.
Over the past three games, the Isles have had a hard time filling the net, only lighting the lamp once in nine periods. Before Anthony Beauvillier beat Arizona Coyotes goaltender, Antti Raanta, in the third period yesterday, the Islanders hadn’t scored in 160:04. The inconsistent scoring lies in the hands of those forwards general manager Lou Lamoriello re-signed this summer, keeping the Islanders’ core intact that was so successful last season.
Islanders captain Anders Lee hasn’t quite returned to that 40-goal form we saw in the 2017-18 season. It’s been seven games since he has filled the back of the net, and that’s been a major factor in this three-game skid. For the captain, it’s been a mix of unfortunate luck and poor play. Since the last time Lee scored, he has registered 20 shots on net, including an eight-shot performance against the Nashville Predators last Thursday.
Lee told Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com, “[These are] close games. We’re playing fine hockey, we’re just not putting it in the back of the net. It’s that final step, it’s that final bounce. Sometimes it goes in off of someone’s skate or whatever it is. Right now it’s just not going our way. We’ve got to continue to fight and continue to stay together. We’ll come through. Just right now it sucks.”
While it is true that the Isles are just not getting the bounces they need to fill the net, the inability to score has been a narrative surrounding the team since before the departure of former captain, John Tavares. The current Islanders captain needs to find his 2017-18 form again, in order to contribute more consistently to the struggling offense. Lee was not brought back on a seven-year, $49 million deal to score under 20 goals a year.
In his career, Lee has made a name for himself scoring the dirty goals. He needs to plant himself in front of the goaltender in both five-on-five play and on the power play, cashing in on rebounds, screening goaltenders, or tipping pucks into the back of the net. The consistency in scoring needs to find a way to make its presence, and it starts with the captain.
It came as a shock to the Islanders fanbase when Jordan Eberle was the first of the pending unrestricted free agents to re-sign in the offseason. He had an unreal postseason in 2018-19, scoring four goals and registering nine points, and it appeared that he and Mathew Barzal had built some serious chemistry.
Throughout his career, the winger performed better in the latter half of the season, but I don’t think anyone predicted his early season struggles this time. Through December, the winger only registered three goals. The former 30-goal scorer has not found 30-goal consistency with the Islanders. In the 2017-18 season, Eberle recorded 25 goals, and that is a more reasonable expectation to have; however, the following season his goal total dipped to 19, and he is on pace for a lower total this season as well.
The former All-Star was brought to Long Island to be a goalscorer. While he may never hit that 30-goal mark again, the expectation of signing a five-year, $25 million contract was that he could contribute between 20-25 goals, even with Trotz’ defensive structure. The Islanders’ power play has only converted on 18.2% of chances, and that is partially due to the lack of contribution coming from the Saskatchewan native. In 48 games played, he has only registered two power play goals.
Over the past three games, he has recorded eight shots, averaging about two and a half shots per game. Although that’s pretty average, Eberle has been guilty of handling the puck too long, looking for the perfect shot, or passing the puck off rather than putting it on net. If Eberle doesn’t find that chemistry that appeared in the 2019 postseason with Barzal and he can’t chip in more on the power play, it’s likely the lack of scoring continues.
To be fair, Anthony Beauvillier is having a career year, already passing his previous point total of 36 points, and he is the lone goalscorer in the past nine periods for the Islanders. In his previous 10 games played, Beau has scored six goals, and is only three goals shy of matching his career high. However, in the previous 17 games played before this run, he had only found himself in the goal column twice on the scoresheet. The inconsistency in scoring has been a narrative throughout the Quebec-native’s career. He scores in bunches, and when he isn’t scoring, it’s a long time coming before you see his name on the scoresheet again.
Beauvillier was brought back on a two-year, $4.2 million deal, as a “prove it” bridge. He has been one of the better forwards for the Islanders throughout 2019-20, and Trotz and Co. hope that he can continue the current scoring pace he is on.
Perhaps it’s time the special teams staff took a look at the power play units to swap Beau of the second unit with Eberle or Lee on the first unit, in an effort to give the Islanders a boost in the power play department. Beauvillier is one of the silver linings on offense this season, and if he can keep his current scoring pace, he should easily set a new scoring record for himself. However, he has a habit of disappearing and the Islanders simply cannot afford for that to happen.
The Third Line
No one can even be sure what the Islanders third line is, not even Trotz. Derick Brassard has floated between the second and third line, either on Brock Nelson’s wing, or centering multiple different players. Kieffer Bellows finds himself in and out of the left wing over the past six games, one of the many rookies to play on the third line. Michael Dal Colle slotted on the second line for the start of the game against Arizona for the first time this season, before Trotz shuffled the lines again, and Josh Bailey has been floating just as much as Brassard.
Sprinkle in the occasional appearances from Leo Komarov, and it begs the question, what is the Islanders third line? The top two lines can’t be the only source of offense for the team. Brassard started the year slow, moved to the second line, scored a whole bunch, but was needed back on line three and hasn’t found the scoring touch as much. Dal Colle finds himself in the lineup almost every night, but it’s not for his scoring touch, only having four goals on the year, which is a career high for him.
Bailey gets a pass as he has the ability to contribute no matter the line he’s on or the linemates he skates with. However, Bellows was brought up to score — he potted two goals in his second game and hasn’t found the scoresheet since. Other rookies such as Otto Koivula and Oliver Wahlstrom have been brought up as well, and have seen even less success than Bellows.
The fact of the matter is since Valtteri Filppula opted to play for Detroit again this offseason, the Islanders haven’t been able to find consistency on their third line. When you look throughout the leagues best offensive teams, scoring depth is a major factor that contributes to that success.
The Islanders are going to have to either look for another gear in the wake of this scoring drought, or bring help in from the outside with the trade deadline just six days away. (from ‘Islanders offensive woes continue against Coyotes in third straight loss,’ NY Post, 02/17/2020) If not, the Islanders could find themselves out of the playoff picture if this kind of play continues.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.