It took some tinkering and toying, but the Islanders' second line is starting to come together, and not a moment too soon.
As the Isles face the difficult proposition of facing the first-place Canadiens tomorrow and Sunday, there's at least some solace in the fact that second line of Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee is beginning to jell four games after the shake-up that sent Kyle Okposo up to the first line in place of Lee.
Lee had two assists against Anaheim last Friday, his first points since Nov. 3, while Nielsen has had four points in the last two games. Bailey threw in two assists against Anaheim, too -- his first points since Oct. 26.
"They've got a little bit of chemistry now," coach Jack Capuano said after practice at IceWorks in Syosset yesterday. "I think they're starting to come [along] . . . Johnny's [Tavares] line is starting to come a little bit since we made the switches there but you always want a little bit more. They've been good but we can be better."
The result has been three wins in the last four games, and importantly, Lee is showing signs of breaking out of the sophomore slump that plagued him in the early going. He's got only nine points in the first 19 games and his three goals are significantly off the pace from last year's campaign -- the first time he played a full season in the NHL.
"Going back to Brock [Nelson] and Anders and Ryan Strome, for that matter -- you have such good years your first year, you're always going to go through a little bit of a situation where you're going to face adversity," Capuano said.
"It's just making sure [of your] attention to detail and focus. I'm sure that's one of the areas in [Lee's] game that he realizes , because he's one of those guys is always around the paint, he's always in that area, but now he's starting to get a few more shots on net when he does have the opportunity."
Nielsen has not noticed a drop-off in Lee's aggressiveness from his rookie season, and added the second line's contributions haven't necessarily shown up on the scoresheet.
"You're going to go stretches where you don't score," he said. "That's what happened to us in the beginning but, you know, it's good that lately we've been getting those goals back . . . I think we created and we've been getting some goals lately now, so that's nice. That's how it is. You've just got to make sure that you try and play well."
The line finally came together "especially in the last game," he said, a 5-2 win over Arizona. And Lee added that adapting to skating with these linemates has been simple enough considering he skated with both Bailey and Nielsen last year.
"They make it kind of easy," he said.