Islanders Top Line Lacking Without Okposo

It wasn’t pretty, but the Islanders ended their three-game skid with a shootout win over the lowly Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night to help widen the lead on first place in the Metropolitan. Still, questions about the top line which was largely unproductive in this game linger as Kyle Okposo recovers from surgery on his detached retina.

Okposo’s absence in the Islanders lineup cannot be understated. Though Josh Bailey put together a few nice games before the All-Star break (which I called fool’s gold), in four games on the Tavares line he’s notched just a single assist and is a -3. Playing with one of the best center’s in the NHL would generally increase a player’s production, but now that Bailey isn’t shooting at 12% the way he was in the month of January it’s being realized once again that he’s not a good fit on the top line.

The Anders Lee experiment was an interesting one. Lee, though in limited minutes against generally lower quality opposition, has emerged as a very good possession player this season. Of 677 skaters with at least 100 minutes logged on ice, Anders Lee’s Corsi percentage of 55.6% ranks 60th. In fact, his Relative Corsi percentage of 3.2% suggests that the only Islanders forward with a greater impact on the team’s possession is John Tavares (4.2%).

You’d think so, right?

Unfortunately, Anders Lee falls behind both literally and figuratively because of his skating. An up-tempo group like the Islanders need a winger that compliments the elite John Tavares well, and while Lee has some upsides and can be a great player on this team, his skating is just not where it needs to be to play on the top line of a playoff-bound team. This was evident the entire time he was on the ice until ultimately being replaced with Ryan Strome.

It’s no secret that I think Ryan Strome is one of the top players on this Islanders squad already, and with Okposo likely out at least until March this should be his chance to take the jump into the top right wing spot. The 21-year-old winger who starts more of his shifts in the defensive zone than all but three Islanders skaters is behind only four Islanders forwards in Corsi for percentage to this point. Ryan Strome is a force in both ends.

The positive spin: either way, the Islanders as a whole are playing good hockey. Even over the three game losing streak, the Islanders outshot their opponent in each of those games. Dominating possession has been a key to their success, as they’ve now outshot opponents in 20 of their last 22 games (since the early December Western Conference skid). Historically, teams that generate more shots than their opponents on a consistent basis win more games.

Whether it’s a promotion from within or a trade, it’s going to be majorly important to find the right group of players to fill Okposo’s void on the top line.

 

Stats courtesy: War-on-ice.com, puckalytics.com, NHL.com