Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
Brock Nelson’s demeanor is usually on one setting: Unaffected.
But Nelson has had to work hard to dispel the notion, perhaps at times held by those above him in the Islanders organization, that his play can rise above his stoic exterior.
He’ll get more of an opportunity to show what he can do in the absence of good friend Anders Lee, whose season ended with a broken left fibula on Thursday. Lee will need surgery to repair the break, so he won’t be ready to begin workouts until well into the offseason.
As John Tavares noted: “We don’t really have another Anders Lee as far as his style of play. Other guys will have to step up.”
When it comes to net-front presence on the top power play unit, Nelson is the first one to step up. The lanky center doesn’t have Lee’s solid frame, but Nelson does have a history of success there — 10 of his 20 goals last season were on the power play, nearly all from the small space in front of the opposing net.
“It’s definitely an added opportunity,” said Nelson, who entered Saturday’s game with 26 goals, second on the team and in the top 50 in the league. “I’ve only had a few (three) power-play goals this season, so it’s just another good challenge.”
Nelson tried not to react strongly when called out among a small group by Jack Capuano last week. He offered a wry smile when asked how it could be that, at 24 and in his third full season, 26 goals somehow means he’s not giving full effort every night.
“I believe in myself,” Nelson said. “It’s flattering I guess that (Capuano feels) there’s more to give. It’s a challenge and I’ll accept it.
“Twenty-six goals at this point, that’s not bad though, I would say.”
Hamonic for Game 1? Don’t count him out
Travis Hamonic pounded the gavel at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday and, given how quickly the team announced his regular season was over after a knee-on-knee collision with the Blue Jackets’ Scott Hartnell 10 days ago, it seemed like that’s all Hamonic would be able to do through at least the early stages of the playoffs.
But Hamonic was out there with his teammates on Saturday morning in full gear, skating freely in an hour-plus session. Hamonic isn’t talking and neither are the team executives, but there were certainly smiles from the front office about Hamonic’s pain-free skate.
Game 1 of the first round will either be Wednesday or Thursday and if you were the wagering sort, don’t bet against No. 3 being out there for the series opener.
After Hamonic injured his left knee in the second-to-last game of the 2014-15 regular season and could not make it back for the first-round series loss to the Capitals — he felt he would have played in Game 1 of the second round — Saturday’s development is a major bit of good news for Hamonic and the team.
Tavares always wants to play
John Tavares was in the lineup on Saturday. There’s a decent chance he’ll be in the lineup on Sunday as well. Two games that the Islanders did not need to win, given they were already in the playoffs and had no shot at home ice advantage.
When Capuano spoke of the respect he has for his players “who’ve worked hard to get us to this point,” he certainly meant his captain first and foremost. Tavares’ struggles on offense this season were puzzling, but those appear to be over, with eight points in three games this week.
And so it may not be in Capuano’s interest to rest his star. “Obviously, I love to play,” Tavares said. “You get an opportunity to play a game in the NHL, you don’t take it for granted. I prepare all summer to play 82 games and I take a lot of pride in doing that.”
Tavares needed one more point for 70 on the season and he sat 15th in the league entering Saturday’s games. Not bad for someone who had just seven points in all of December.
“Sometimes you get so caught up in the moment, you can forget how long an 82-game season really is,” he said. “I think as a team we’re not the same on offense as we were last season but we’re better in other areas. I hope the same is true for me. I’ve tried to be better away from the puck. You’re always trying to find ways to be better, especially through the ups and downs of a season like this one.”