Josh Bailey dropped to fourth line as Islanders try to stop losing skid
Lane Lambert was asked to explain his rationale for dropping Josh Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander and one of only three in franchise history to play 1,000 games for the team, to the fourth line.
“It’s a result of us trying to find solutions to not winning hockey games,” the coach said.
It sure felt as if the Islanders’ season was on the brink when they opened a two-game homestand against the Red Wings on Friday night at UBS Arena that precedes an eight-day All-Star break/bye week. Lambert must consider all options for the Islanders to escape their rut.
They entered Friday having lost a season-worst six straight (0-4-2) and were in a 1-7-3 skid overall. They had dropped to 11th in the Eastern Conference, six points out of a playoff spot. The Red Wings entered Friday’s game one point behind the Islanders and having played three fewer games.
The Islanders know time is running short to turn around their season and avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight year.
“We want to stop the slide and get into the break on a good note,” Kyle Palmieri said. “When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to hang your head. But no one is going to give you a win in this league, we’re going to have to earn it.”
“For us, it’s about bringing the energy, bringing our focus and a good mentality,” Anders Lee said.
Lambert started Friday’s game with Bailey on rookie center Aatu Raty’s right wing along with fourth-line stalwart Matt Martin. Bailey has played up and down the lineup this season.
Rookie Simon Holmstrom moved to third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s right wing along with Zach Parise.
The goals must start coming from somewhere. The Islanders entered Friday having been outscored 36-18 in their 11-game skid and without a third-period goal in that span.
Bailey, 33, has struggled through his 15th NHL season with six goals and 13 assists in his 46 games. He entered Friday without a goal in his previous 14 games and with only four assists in that span despite regularly receiving top-six minutes.
He’s been a constant on the Islanders’ second power-play unit but has only two assists on the man-advantage. Lambert also has made Bailey a healthy scratch three times this season, the last being on Nov. 17.
“He’s a guy who can kill penalties for us,” Lambert said. “He’s on the power play. But right now, Holmstrom is getting more of an opportunity.”
Bailey, playing in his 1,040th game and trailing only Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier (1,123) and Denis Potvin (1,060) on the Islanders’ all-time list, did not let his line demotion affect his pregame demeanor.
“I’ve just got to keep working and stick to it,” he said. “You can’t get too down. After you lose a couple, it gets harder to get the first win. Sometimes it just takes one to get the ball rolling.”
One positive for Bailey in being assigned to the fourth line was a rare opportunity to skate alongside Martin, his longtime teammate. The two first played together as Islanders on March 14, 2010. Martin dressed for his 867th NHL game on Friday and his 735th with the Islanders.
“Very few,” Bailey said when asked how many games he had played on a line together with Martin. “We were joking about that this morning. I honestly maybe recall one, years ago, after coming back from an injury. I think they threw me on their line for one game. We’ve had shifts here and there and we’re good friends, so that can translate.”