GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anders Lee is pretty stoic on the ice no matter what’s happening. It was easy to tell how frustrated he was on Thursday night in Denver, however.
He missed a couple of good chances in close. He passed up a shot late, trying for a difficult pass to Frans Nielsen instead. He had what looked to be a three-on-two rush in the second period, only to collide with the linesman as he crossed into the offensive zone, and the Avalanche went the other way with a great chance.
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“That was pretty close to the bottom,” Lee said of his 12th straight game without a goal. “It’s so frustrating.”
The 25-year-old wing’s calling card is scoring goals — not just any goals, but the vaunted “dirty” goals, usually from within a few feet of the net and off rebounds, deflections or other situations that might not be pretty to look at but draw the highest praise from coaches.
In his second full NHL season, though, Lee’s dirty scoring touch has dried up. He had only four goals entering last night’s game against the Coyotes after making a career at all levels of hockey as a goal-scorer, including 25 last season, fourth among NHL rookies.
Last season ended in disappointing fashion for Lee, who was in street clothes for Games 6 and 7 of the Islanders’ first-round playoff loss to the Capitals after going without a goal the first five games of the postseason.
Jack Capuano’s response to Lee’s current drought was a bit different this time, as he promoted Lee to the top line last night. With Kyle Okposo sidelined the next two games with a lower-body injury, Lee moved up to start the game with John Tavares and Josh Bailey.
“It shows they have confidence in me and they know what kind of player I am,” Lee said. “I think they know there’s been times I’ve done some good things.”
Capuano has no concerns about Lee, who still was third on the team entering last night with 74 shots on goal.
“He works,” Capuano said. “He’s always working hard and I never have to worry about him that way. When you do that, you trust that he’s going to come out of it at some point.”
Lee-Tavares-Bailey was the Islanders’ top line for much of Okposo’s 22-game absence last season after eye surgery. The Islanders went 12-7-3 in those games and Lee had nine goals during that stretch. If he can get something going, perhaps it can help Tavares, who hasn’t had an assist in his last 11 games.
“We’ve been winning lately, so it doesn’t sting as much,” Lee said of his drought. “But we lost the last two, and that’s when it starts to stink because you know you had a chance to help the team win.”