Three forwards comprise a line but, typically, coaches will pair two anchors for each trio and then experiment with the third slot. So it has gone for the Islanders at training camp.
Lane Lambert has steadily used Mathew Barzal with Bo Horvat, Pierre Engvall with Brock Nelson and, perhaps significantly, captain Anders Lee with third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Significant because Lee, 33, has been a longtime top-six left wing, scoring a career-high 40 goals in 2017-18 and notching 28 goals and 22 assists in 82 games last season. Playing with Pageau could put him in more of a defensive, checking role.
“The argument for it’s something significant, I don’t think you can do that because it is Day 6 of training camp,” coach Lane Lambert said. “The significance is trying to find that chemistry. You don’t know until you try and a little bit of time helps with that.”
Lee skated with Pageau and prospect Matthew Maggio in the Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in their preseason opener, logging two shots in 17:11 while Pageau and Maggio had one apiece. They were on the ice for Chris Kreider’s breakaway goal to make it 3-0 at 3:10 of the first period.
And it’s likely Lee and Pageau will skate together again when the Islanders face the Rangers on Friday night at UBS Arena in their third preseason game.
But, entering his 11th season with the Islanders, Lee knows not to put too much stock into preseason combinations.
“That usually never works,” Lee said. “Doesn’t work. Things change every week, every time. So this early camp stuff is great. It’s fun to fun to play with new guys. It’s fun to get out there with Pager and get a repertoire together. Whether we start the year together, I see him in a month, we have this space.”
Lee ended last season playing with Horvat and Barzal in the Islanders’ six-game loss to the Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs. He also spent plenty of time skating with Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, who has yet to participate in camp because of an unspecified injury.
But Lambert — as was the case with predecessor Barry Trotz — usually distributes the on-ice time fairly equally among the forwards.
“Most lines on our team are playing between 16 and 18 minutes,” Lee said. “You might get a couple of extra offensive-zone draws on a different line, a couple more defensive-zone draws on a different line. But, more or less, you’re playing hockey. You’ve just got to take care of yourself, take care of your line and put a good effort in. If you’re clicking with two guys and you have more D-zone draws, then whatever. Who cares? Let’s go play and win hockey games. This kind of stuff always seems to work itself out.”
The regular-season opener is Oct. 14 against the visiting Sabres. That’s when it will be revealed whether Lambert’s preseason forward pairings have been significant or not.
Notes & quotes: Defense prospect Isaiah George was reassigned to his junior team, London of the Ontario Hockey League.