Saturday afternoon brings yet another chance for the Islanders to show they can beat playoff-level competition, something they’ve struggled with all season.
The Islanders — 4-17-2 against teams holding playoff positions, having been outscored 75-45 — will continue a six-game homestand against the St. Louis Blues (32-15-6), who are second in the Central Division.
Perhaps one difference now is that they are receiving goals from Kyle Palmieri, who was signed to a four-year, $20 million extension after being acquired from the Devils to be a goal-scorer.
"That whole line, Palms, Pager [Jean-Gabriel Pageau], Zach [Parise], they work extremely hard," Brock Nelson said. "A lot of offense. They hound pucks, create some turnovers and get a lot of turnovers and a lot of chances."
Palmieri scored his sixth goal in nine games since returning to the lineup in Thursday night’s 4-3 loss to the Canucks.
Coach Barry Trotz has had the two former Devils wings with Pageau for three games since top-line center Mathew Barzal suffered a lower-body injury on Feb. 26. Palmieri and Parise had been playing on Barzal’s line.
Palmieri missed 10 games with a lower-body injury from Dec. 19-Jan. 25, then missed an additional three games last month, the first to attend the birth of his first child and the latter two as a healthy scratch. When the Smithtown native returned from that absence, he had only one goal in his first 29 games.
But Palmieri scored twice in his first game back in the lineup and has since found his shooting confidence. No longer are his attempts finding the goalie’s stomach.
His well-placed one-timer from the left circle off defenseman Adam Pelech’s feed beat Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko to the short side to bring the Islanders into a 2-2 tie at 18:20 of the second period on Thursday night. It was Palmieri’s lone shot on net in the game.
It’s been a good sign for Palmieri, who is well aware that the Islanders expected more than seven goals and seven assists in 38 games.
In addition to putting Pageau between Palmieri and Parise, Trotz is using Nelson between Anders Lee and Anthony Beauvillier and has moved Josh Bailey into the middle between Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom.
"Pageau’s line has gotten some chemistry to it, it’s got some good balance to it," Trotz said. "Nelson’s line has been fairly productive. It’s hard to judge the Bailey-Wahlstrom-Bellows line because Bails is not a natural centerman and you’ve got two young guys that, at times, have played very well and, at times, made it more difficult on themselves just because of decisions."
The Islanders (20-23-8) are 19 points behind the Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot (Washington has played five more games). The Islanders, in the midst of playing 17 games in March, did not practice on Friday. Barzal and defenseman Zdeno Chara (upper body) remain day-to-day.