Plenty of attention has been paid to burly Ross Johnston’s ascension to playing on top-line center Mathew Barzal’s left wing. Less notice has been given to Michael Dal Colle recent spell on second-line center Brock Nelson’s right wing.
That’s where the 2014 first-round pick started four of five games through Saturday’s matinee against the Sabres at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Dal Colle scored his second goal of the season, and first since Oct. 19, in the first period but also exited the game with an upper-body injury after and accidental collision with the Sabres’ Conor Sheary later in the period.
Any potential absence for Dal Colle would not only slow his recent progress but again force coach Barry Trotz’s to figure out who to play with Nelson and left wing Anthony Beauvillier.
Until Saturday, Trotz had been able to roll four lines more consistently of late. But he has struggled to construct four lasting trios over the first 31 games, save for Casey Cizikas’ identity line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.
And the hardest spot to fill has been where Dal Colle was playing.
Derick Brassard, a natural center, spent a good chunk of time on that line but that adversely affected the Islanders’ depth down the middle.
“I’ve felt good the last few games I’ve played,” said Dal Colle — who has two goals and two assists in his first 26 games and had gone 11 games without a point before Saturday’s goal — earlier in the week. “I’ve been good on the forecheck.”
Good on the forecheck is not a golden ticket to permanent top-six status, though.
Dal Colle is well aware he must be more consistent with his offensive production.
He surpassed 80 points in his last three seasons of juniors in the Ontario Hockey League, including two seasons of 90-plus points. But he had three goals and four assists in 28 games for the Islanders last season and has not been a prolific scorer for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, either.
The rap on him was his skating ability but Trotz said Dal Colle has made good progress with it. In fact, Trotz said Dal Colle has developed into a “legit” NHL player.
“His pace of game,” Trotz said. “He’s skating as well as he’s ever skated. The systematic stuff in terms of things that are black and white, he’s got those locked down. I think he has a better thought process for those gray areas. I just like the fact that he’s been consistent. He’s not showing me one thing one game and another thing the next. That’s when a player is turning into a really good pro. He’s gone from a guy maybe in and out of the lineup to a guy that should be in the lineup and it’s just my call whether he’s in or not.”
A good reason
Per NHL statistics, Johnny Boychuk took 44 shots on goal through his first 30 games and had 19 missed shots, including 15 that went wide of the net. During a casual conversation with the defenseman, it was relayed to him that Islanders’ fans, via Twitter, had noticed he seemed to be shooting the puck wide of the net at a higher frequency and seemingly on purpose.
Boychuk said that was correct.
“It’s because guys are getting into the [shooting] lane,” Boychuk said. “I’d rather shoot it wide…than getting it blocked. To me, shooting the puck is essentially the same thing as putting it behind the net. It’s just toward the net, not around the boards.”
Picked from the Pod
The Stars’ Blake Comeau is on his sixth NHL stop since the Islanders drafted him in the second round in 2004 and he has made the successful evolution from an offensive-minded forward to a steady bottom-six role. He wound up in Calgary in 2011 after the Islanders placed him on waivers. He had started the season without a point in 16 games after he set career highs with 24 goals and 46 points in 2010-11 with the Islanders.
Comeau was the guest on Episode 11 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast and he opened up on the career-jarring impact of the Islanders letting him go.
“It was tough, to be honest,” Comeau said. “I was in my early 20s and I don’t think I really knew how to handle it, to be honest. You get drafted by the Islanders. You start with the Islanders. You always have it in your mind that this is where I want to be for the rest of my career and to be put on waivers, I just don’t think I was mature enough at the time to handle it. It took me a couple of years. It was a hard hit to my confidence.
“It really took me until probably Pittsburgh [in 2014-15] where I could kind of turn my career around,” Comeau added. “I had a great opportunity with [coach] Mike Johnston there. I got to play with some really good players. I was kind of able to get back in the role a little bit where I started with New York and then from there it just kind of evolved with me getting another good opportunity in Colorado, then a good opportunity here. But, yeah, it was tough to go through, no question. Having to move cities, pack up and leave and say goodbye to everyone, it was tough.”
Fastest to 20
The Islanders improved to 20-7-2 (wins-losses-overtime losses) with Monday night’s 5-1 win at Tampa Bay, giving them 42 points. That is the second-highest point total through 29 games in franchise history behind the 43 points the 1978-79 squad secured with a mark of 18-4-7 (wins-losses-ties). The 29 games marked the fastest the Islanders have reached 20 wins:
29 Games –2019-20 (20-7-2)
30 Games – 2014-15 (20-10-0)
31 Games – 1983-84 (20-9-2); 1978-79 (20-4-7); 1976-77 (20-7-4)