Anders Lee pushed and chased the puck up ice, swatting it into the Panthers' empty net to complete his first career Gordie Howe hat trick and cap a grueling stretch of 10 of 13 on the road for the Islanders.
And the captain’s renewed production is coinciding with the club starting to win again with frequency.
The Islanders, who did not practice on Friday, open a stretch of four of their next five games at home when they face the Sabres on Saturday afternoon at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Lee had his goal/assist/fight troika as the Islanders completed a 2-1-0 trip with a 3-1 win against the Panthers on Thursday night. That gave Lee four goals and four assists in his last seven games, during which the Islanders went 5-2-0.
“We’re looking forward to getting home,” said Lee, who has nine goals and nine assists in 30 games. “But I think we did a pretty good job of taking care of business when we needed to, turning this trip around and having a good response after a big trip out West. We did a really good job of doing our job and sticking to it.”
The Islanders started their recent trip with a 3-1 loss at Dallas and went 0-2-1 during their California swing as their franchise record 15-0-2 streak ended with a 3-0 loss to the Ducks on Nov. 25.
But Lee struggled through a good portion of the Islanders’ 17-game point streak. He went without a point in the eight games preceding his current seven-game production spurt and had just one assist in 11 games from Nov. 2-Nov. 27.
Eventually, coach Barry Trotz moved both Lee and right wing Jordan Eberle off Mathew Barzal’s top line after a listless 4-2 loss at Montreal on Dec. 3.
The two have spent the four games since skating on Derick Brassard’s wing on what is technically the Islanders’ third line. Lee has three goals and an assist since being matched with Brassard and said there are differences playing with the two centers.
“Absolutely,” Lee said. “Barzy, he takes the puck and he keeps it. There’s a lot more involvement with Brass, a lot more touches, a lot more of a cycle game, for sure. With Barzy, you’re just trying to find open ice. You might not have the touches. But you just learn who you’re playing with and make it work.”
The 6-3, 231-pound Lee earned praise from his teammates for fighting the Panthers’ Brian Boyle after the 6-6, 245-pound center leveled defenseman Adam Pelech in the neutral zone with what the Islanders felt was a borderline high hit. Pelech missed the rest of second period to receive stitches for his face after getting cut by his own stick upon impact.
“It was a big hit there,” said Lee, who wound up with 17 penalty minutes as he was assessed a two-minute instigator and a 10-minute misconduct in addition to a five-minute fighting major. “I just saw Pelly grab his face. We just have each other’s backs out there. All good.”