The Islanders recently have gotten improved production from their top six forwards, and they will need that to continue that upward trend.
Christmas marked the second day of the NHL’s three-day holiday break. During the down time, Newsday is examining how the Islanders’ goalies, forwards and defensemen have performed in the first 35 games and how they can improve the rest of the season.
“When we’re at our best, we’ve got a good team work ethic, and that goes right through the four lines, the defense and the goaltenders,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re defending well and having some pride in the defensive area of the game. That shows in our goals against, that shows in our goaltenders’ save percentage.
“Where we’ve had some difficulty is a little bit of consistent offense through all four lines,” Trotz added. “You would probably say we’ve gotten more from our bottom six than probably people may have expected and we’ve gotten maybe a little less from our top six than expected.”
Trotz has relied on his reunited fourth line of Casey Cizikas — who already has matched his career high with nine goals — Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck to bolster a grind-it-out identity. Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov’s third line has played up ice more than expected, advanced analytics be darned, and the addition of the often-dynamic Josh Ho-Sang to the trio gives it more offensive potential.
The 98 goals the Islanders have allowed are the third fewest in the NHL, a huge turnaround from last season, when their 293 goals allowed were the most in the league since 2007. The forwards, as a group, have played a significant role in how they’ve backchecked and positionally supported the defensemen and goalies.
The Islanders’ 101 goals scored are the seventh fewest in the league.
Mathew Barzal, who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie last season with 22 goals and 63 assists, has five goals and 24 assists to lead the team in points this season. He and Anthony Beauvillier (11 goals, two assists), who had only one goal through Nov. 13, have been the team’s two best forwards the past month.
Put Brock Nelson (12 goals, 11 assists) and captain Anders Lee (13 goals, 13 assists) in that conversation as well.
Josh Bailey (seven goals, 21 assists) has played well in spurts, but the Islanders do need more from Jordan Eberle (seven goals, 10 assists).
Plan for improvement
Off-ice factors could impact how the Islanders’ forwards perform the rest of the season. Nelson, Eberle and Lee are on expiring deals — losing Lee would be an unmitigated debacle after the John Tavares exit — and the trade deadline is Feb. 25.
Injuries have limited Andrew Ladd to 14 games and he has not played since Nov. 13. Whether he can contribute this season is very debatable. Ho-Sang has the talent to be elevated into the top six. That would be good for the Islanders, who need more goal production.