On a night when neither he nor his counterpart captain nor almost anyone else managed to provide a goal during actual play, Anders Lee at least provided perspective. “It’s a shootout loss. You lose the point, that’s what you’re frustrated about,” Lee said. “But you’ve got to look at how we played the game. Shootouts aren’t in the playoffs.”
It is his hope and belief that the Islanders will be in the playoffs. In any case, it is his job to make sense of every game, especially the gnawing ones like Monday night, when his team played well but let go of a 1-0 lead over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins then lost, 2-1, in a shootout.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” Lee said during a major part of his captain’s duty, facing the first wave of media, win or lose, minutes after the game, when emotions still are raw.
The Islanders are proud to have him as their leader and they showed it in the previous game, Saturday night in Detroit. Lee was taken out with a massive hit that left his face bloody and looked like it might cost him days if not weeks. It turned out he was able to return later that night, but in the meantime, his teammates literally fought for him. They got right in the Red Wings’ faces and came back to win, in what might eventually become a season’s signature moment.
“The guys, when they rally around someone like that, they tell you how much he means to the group,” said Barry Trotz, who named Lee captain in one of his earliest and most decisive moves as Islanders coach. “The No. 1 thing with a captain is you have to put everybody else first. He has done that. He does that naturally because that’s the kind of person he is. He leads by example, on and off the ice.”
Despite some red marks on his face and some lingering stitches (he acknowledged that Niklas Kronwall’s shot Saturday was not dirty), Lee was fine to lead the Islanders Monday against the Penguins and Crosby, who is essentially Captain Hockey.
Nobody in the National Hockey League is a match for Crosby in terms of leadership, skill and achievement (“He’s the gold standard,” Trotz said). Several teams do not even have a captain. The Islanders easily could have gone that route, given that they didn’t have a superstar-in-waiting after former captain John Tavares left them for the Maple Leafs (who, interestingly, do not have a captain).
But it was vital that the Islanders not be lost at “C.” Not having a captain would have just called more attention to the previous guy’s absence. Trotz was unabashedly honest about that at the morning skate Monday: “I think it was important to have someone replace Tavares. Everything seemed to go through JT as the captain, which it should. I just didn’t feel that there should be a void there.”
His choice of Lee was a natural: The winger is a big scorer, a career Islander who scored his first NHL goal on his first shot in his first game at Nassau Coliseum. “As a player, he brings it every night. When your leaders are doing that, everyone else is going to jump on board,” Matt Martin said.
It would help the Islanders if others could match Lee’s production. He leads with 11 goals, but scoring has been sparse. “You didn’t see a ton of opportunities until the other team made a mistake,” said the captain who realizes that being asked for instant analysis “is part of the gig.”
Shootouts are really crapshoots. The Islanders played a solid game in front of another sellout crowd at the Coliseum. They earned a decent point. And every day they give a grade of “A” to the guy who wears the “C.”