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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Brock Nelson and Isles’ third line need to get going

“We need more and it’s got to happen quick,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said.

Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Doug Weight has had very few problems with the majority of his forwards. When you’ve got four of the top 25 scorers in the league up front, it’s hard to take issue.

But Weight can see quite clearly that his third line has been a drag on offense and possession throughout the season. Brock Nelson has been the most frequent center for a line that has changed wingers often but still can’t seem to get enough going.

“I thought Brock was better tonight,” Weight said of Nelson following Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Jets. “He had some opportunities, he was engaged. But yeah, we need more and it’s got to happen quick.”

Nelson hasn’t exactly gotten the pick of his wings this season, playing most often with Josh Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier. Ho-Sang got off to a good start and has shown flashes of creativity and consistency, but he is in Bridgeport for the second time this season.

And Beauvillier, who was scratched on Friday — his eighth time sitting out this season — hasn’t found his game in his second season.

Nelson has nine goals in 38 games, still on pace for 20 this season, but his ice-time average is down to 13:58 per game, well off the 15:39 per he averaged a season ago. Far worse, he’s averaging barely three shot attempts per game as he’s playing mostly with hard-working wings like Steve Bernier and Shane Prince of late.

Nelson and Ho-Sang had good chemistry in the first few weeks of the season. Another call-up for No. 66 may be the only internal move left to get the third line going.

AHO’S IDOL? LIDSTROM, OF COURSE

Sebastian Aho grew up playing defense in Sweden in the 2000s. There was only one NHLer he looked up to.

“Nicklas Lidstrom, I think,” Aho said. “He’s one of the biggest (stars) Sweden’s ever had. Everyone knows him and everyone wants to be him. So it was a pretty easy choice to try and look at him and learn from him.”

The 21-year-old Aho didn’t get in the lineup on Friday, one day after he was called up, but he may get in a game with the Isles down to seven healthy defensemen. Johnny Boychuk (lower body) is out likely until the Isles’ Jan. 8-13 break and the team has five games before then, including a back-to-back next week.

EXPECT MORE SHOTS THROUGH

The Isles’ different approach to allowing shots this season has them giving up 33 shots on goal per game, tied for sixth-most in the league. That’s unlikely to go down with Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan out.

Those two are the top shot-blockers on the Islanders, with 77 and 65. Adam Pelech is next with 63. Doug Weight and his coaching staff don’t mind low-danger shots from the outside as long as his goaltenders can see them, a strategy that worked to perfection in the Isles’ 5-2 win over the Jets last weekend.

The trick, of course, is to allow the goaltenders space to set up and stop the shots. Clearing “the house,” as the front of the net is called, is something Boychuk especially is good at. In Friday’s loss to Winnipeg, house-clearing was an issue on Kyle Connor’s goal in the third that proved to be the game winner.

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