The Islanders’ assist leader through 36 games is a player who is familiar to longtime fans. Perhaps too familiar.
Josh Bailey has been a very solid forward on a mediocre team this season, but he still gets a large portion of the online displeasure directed at the Isles.
After 593 games as an Islander, Bailey, 27, has learned to ignore the unhappy fans and embrace the good parts of his job. He’s been a mainstay throwing pucks to fans during warm-ups just about since Nov. 11, 2008, when he played his first Islanders game after having been the ninth overall pick in the previous June’s draft.
Now, with the departure of top-six mainstays Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen last summer, Bailey is getting a bigger opportunity than he did in his eight previous seasons and is making a pretty good go of it. As John Tavares’ most consistent wing this season and a regular on the top power-play unit, Bailey is on pace for career highs in points, shots on goal and ice time.
“When you get a chance to play with Johnny, you’ve got to work hard,” coach Jack Capuano said. “You know you’re seeing the other team’s best every night. What I’m impressed with the most is his work ethic. He’s competing at a level that is helping our team. They’re working extremely hard, that line, and now they’re being rewarded.”
Bailey has frustrated his coaches in the past with his preference to make plays rather than shoot pucks on net. His career high for shots on goal is 140. By contrast, Tavares’ career low for shots in a season is 168, and that came in the 48-game 2012-13 season. But with 70 shots through 36 games this season, Bailey understands that playing with Tavares means taking advantage when the space is there.
“There’s no question you play with a guy like him, you’re going to get more opportunities to score, more chances to shoot the puck,” Bailey said. “Playing on the top PP unit, much the same. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, not trying to force anything, use my hockey sense and still try and make my plays. When the shot’s there, try to take it.”
Bailey’s two assists in Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Jets showcased the playmaking ability that has him leading the Islanders with 19 assists, tied for 33rd in the league and one fewer than he had all of last season.
He grabbed an errant pass by lifting Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey’s stick and quickly shuffled a pass to Tavares, who beat Connor Hellebuyck with a backhand.
Bailey later sent a pass from along the wall to the slot, where Anders Lee deflected it home one-handed.
“He’s such a skilled guy, you just want to be in good position to make the most of the opportunities he gives you,” Lee said. “We all know what kind of player he is. It’s great to see him start to get the numbers that get others to notice him, too.”