The good chemistry among Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey during the final 11 games of the 2011-12 season was a nice thing for all three relatively young players, but nothing more. Their hot streak didn't keep the Islanders from missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
That line has been good again for the last 10 games or so, and this time it very well could matter quite a bit.
Jack Capuano put that line back together midway through this shortened season, but it has become a scoring threat only in the last month after Capuano charged all three forwards with the mission of shutting down the opposition's top lines most nights.
Nielsen's line was assigned to face the Capitals' No. 2 line, centered by Mike Ribeiro, and was responsible for the late goal that salvaged a point for the Islanders in a 2-1 shootout loss Thursday night. Okposo's goal with 4:59 left came after a smart play by Bailey, who circled the Caps' net with the puck while his linemates came on the ice. He fed Nielsen, who delivered a touch pass to Okposo for the goal.
And that has been a huge boost to the Islanders' playoff hopes as John Tavares, still the engine that makes the team go, has had his five-on-five production fall off. Tavares spent a frustrating Thursday night getting manhandled by various Caps players. It was only his second game in the last seven without a goal, but the Tavares-Matt Moulson-Brad Boyes line recently has struggled.
Last season, Capuano didn't find a line that could take some of the scoring heat off Tavares until the Isles were all but eliminated. He was eager to start this season with the Bailey-Nielsen-Okposo trio, but Bailey missed the first two weeks with a knee injury, Okposo got off to another sluggish start and Nielsen was asked to do too much, playing on the first power-play unit.
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