Whether or not Anthony Beauvillier is in the rotation in the next few days, Islanders coach Barry Trotz expects some major changes.
Beauvillier, who left Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury, is day-to-day, Trotz said, and though his potential absence will make line changes a matter of course, there’s every reason to expect further modifications as the Islanders continue to struggle offensively.
After losing to the Devils, 2-0, the Islanders are last in the league in scoring, averaging 1.80 goals per game in their first five. All but one of the team’s nine goals have been scored by the first two lines, with another coming from Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
What’s kept them afloat is their defense and goalie Semyon Varlamov, who allowed a total of only one goal in his three games, all victories.
Varlamov was made available to the media after practice Monday and seems likely to start against the Capitals on Tuesday.
Are changes to be expected? "Yeah, absolutely," Trotz said. "Obviously, we might have to do gymnastics in terms of our roster, but there’s no question. There’s a lot of parts of our game that we do pretty well defensively and right now . . . we’re looking for an odd goal or two. We’re OK if we win 1-0. I just don’t like losing 1-0."
For one thing, he’ll need to figure out what to do with that third line, which Sunday included Michael Dal Colle, Pageau and Ross Johnston. Kieffer Bellows, who had played on the third line before Sunday, was relegated to the taxi squad.
Trotz noted that teams just aren’t giving up much anywhere, and when they do, it’s on special teams. That’s been the name of the game in a shortened season in which teams are putting defense at a premium, and goaltenders seem especially prepared for the challenge. Going into Monday, 161 of the 597 goals scored in the NHL this season were man-up goals (27%).
Either way, the Islanders need to capitalize on any chance they get, and they can’t do that if only the first two lines are contributing offensively.
"I’ll say our top two lines are carrying the load and we’re not getting that complete contribution through the lineup right now," Trotz said. "When we’re most successful, it’s the fourth line [contributing one night], the next night it’s the third. It’s three of the four lines are contributing. Lately, we’ve just had one of the four lines that seems to have an effect on the game."
The Islanders have some measure of flexibility, thanks to the taxi squad, and it’s clear that Trotz isn’t shy about using whatever he has at his disposal.
"They have to contribute," he said. "They can’t just put on the jersey and be part of the team. They’ve got to find ways to contribute . . . Whatever you bring to the table, you better bring it. If you don’t, we have extra people."
Lee on faceoffs. Anders Lee is continuing to develop in the faceoff circle, winning 10 of 12 faceoffs against the Devils. The winger has seen increased responsibility in the role since 2018, taking 199 faceoffs last season. He already has taken 35 in five games this season and has won 48.6% of them.
Pageau has been instrumental in the growth process, Trotz said.
"Our last practice at home, I was dropping pucks and Anders was having trouble with a certain centerman that we played and he says, ‘He does this to me all the time’ and [he and Pageau] were talking counter-moves for that," Trotz said. "That’s how you grow, and Anders has taken that extra piece. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting passed."