Motivation takes many offseason forms. For Islanders captain Anders Lee, much of it centered on the team’s first run to the Eastern Conference finals since 1993 and the associated disappointment of falling short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
But there’s always a personal element as well. Lee is always looking to improve his productivity and 2019-20 marked the first time in four seasons he did not lead the Islanders in goals or power-play goals.
So, it’s a good sign for Lee and the Islanders that he enters Saturday afternoon’s rematch with the Sabres at Nassau Coliseum with a team-leading 10 goals and tied for second with three power-play goals.
"I think I’m just taking advantage of some good opportunities," Lee said after Friday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "You can get a bounce here or there. Staying loose at times and finding some soft areas and being good on the rush and just trying to always demand more and challenge myself to explore other areas of my game. A combination of our line playing good hockey and things working."
The Islanders (13-6-4) opened a five-game homestand with a 5-2 win over the East Division-trailing Sabres on Thursday in the first of three straight games between the teams. The Islanders are on a 5-0-1 streak, have won three in a row and all four games against the Sabres this season.
Lee has four goals — three at even strength and one empty-netter — and one assist in four games against the Sabres. In all, he has 16 points in 23 games.
His line with Mathew Barzal (eight goals, 12 assists) and Jordan Eberle (nine goals, five assists) are three of the Islanders’ top five scorers.
Lee also is the net-front presence on a power-play unit with Barzal, Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier and either Ryan Pulock or Noah Dobson.
The Islanders rank 13th on the power play at 23.4% (15-for-64) after finishing 24th last season at 17.3%.
Lee scored just two of his 20 goals last season on the man advantage after scoring 10 of 28 on the power play in 2018-19. Lee notched a career-high 40 goals in 2017-18, aided by 14 power-play goals.
"The power play can definitely bleed into your five-on-five game if things are going well," Lee said. "You get a touch, you get a goal and you start to feel a little bit better about everything. Our power play has been able to generate some good chances and both units have had some good games and I think that definitely goes hand-in-hand with a little bit of scoring touches and those things you need to put it in five-on-five."
Lee recognizes the group’s potential to improve upon last season’s deep playoff run.
"It came easy after a run like that and how close you get," Lee said of his offseason motivation. "Looking forward to everything to come and knowing the team we’re bringing back. There’s never a time to get complacent. There’s always areas of my game I’m trying to evolve."