The last time Anders Lee played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, he put the capper on a wild Islanders’ comeback win with the team’s third goal of the third period.
Things were certainly looking up for the Islanders captain as he netted his eighth goal in the season’s first 14 games.
But then the goals stopped. Lee had none in his next 13 games.
So on Thursday night at the Garden against the Rangers — the New York rivals’ final meeting of the regular season — Lee scored the opening goal in the first period when his wraparound try went off the skate of the Rangers Ryan Lindgren.
With 11 goals and 13 assists in his first 34 games as the Islanders concluded a season-long, five-game road trip, Lee was tied for second on the team in goals and third in points.
Yet his point pace has slowed considerably with just two goals and seven assists over his last 19 games since the last meeting with the Rangers.
Glass half-full? Lee had two goals in six games entering Thursday. That included a blistering one-timer from the slot off Anthony Beauvillier’s feed that opened the scoring at 18:58 of the first period in a well-played 5-2 win over Vegas on Saturday night. Lee celebrated with an effusive one leg raised, arm-pumping display because, “It just felt good, it was a great play, a good goal at the end of the period. Big one for us to get the first goal.”
“Honestly, I felt like I liked my chances,” Lee said. “I liked my looks. There were times I didn’t like every touch. But it was just a little bit of just not going my way. It is what it is. You’re going to have stretches like this. I’m sticking with the program. There’s ebbs and flows. It’s just playing your game and making a difference in other ways and sticking with it.
“I’d be lying to say it doesn’t faze you. It definitely comes into play. But you can’t let it get in the way of how you prepare and how you approach each night and what you can bring. Because those are going to come. If you’re getting your chances and you’re getting yourself in good spots, they’re going to start going in.”
Lee, whose power-forward game is predicated on establishing position at the crease and working hard for rebounds, entered Thursday third on the Islanders with 96 shots but his shooting percentage of 10.4% was 12th.
Per MoneyPuck.com, Lee was leading the Islanders for the season in expected goals at 16.1.
“He does his job so well, even when he doesn’t score,” Beauvillier said. “He’s tough to maintain in front of the net and he wins battles. It’s hockey. They’re going to go in at times and sometimes they won’t. He’s been consistent in his game.”
What hasn’t always been consistent is Lee’s line assignment.
Coach Lane Lambert has shuttled Lee of late between Brock Nelson’s left wing with Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal’s trio with right wing Oliver Wahlstrom.
Lee’s game does not change but there are adjustments to be made depending on whether he’s skating with Barzal, who plays more with the puck on his stick, or Nelson.
“It is different,” Lee said. “But, in return, I think they know my style as well and they can feed into that, too. It’s just communication, getting on the same page. That’s the biggest thing. Getting open for Barzy, he holds it a little bit longer in the offensive zone sometimes. He’ll throw pucks to the net or down low to start creating some stuff. And with Nellie, we can work the puck a little bit lower and work off of each other.”