SUNRISE, Fla. — Preseason presumptions can sometimes be just that and easily forgotten once the regular season begins.
The preseason results that suggested right wing Kyle Palmieri being added to center Mathew Barzal’s top line with a healthy captain Anders Lee would be a highly effective trio was borne out to start the regular season.
The Islanders continued a franchise-record 13-game road trip against the Panthers on Saturday night at FLA Live Arena after Barzal, Lee and Palmieri were their best players in Thursday night’s season-opening 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes. At the very least, they were the Islanders’ most dangerous players skating five-on-five and accounted for eight of the team’s 28 shots and two of their goals.
"In the preseason, we kind of got the chemistry going a little bit and scored some goals," Barzal said. "It was nice to get a few. Early in the season, you want to start feeling good about your game and I thought our line [Thursday] was pretty good. We can clean some stuff up but, in terms of our line, I thought there was some good stuff there."
Palmieri’s initial backhander off goalie Frederik Andersen’s pads led to Barzal’s first-period goal on Thursday and he also had the secondary assist on Lee’s second-period tally from just above the crease.
Lee, returning after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament on March 11 and missing the end of last season and the postseason run to the NHL semifinals, had three goals as he played in the Islanders’ final two preseason games. But netting one in the regular season reinforced he could resume being an effective power forward.
"It felt great," Lee said. "A lot of stuff went into getting back to this point. To get one to go, it always feels good, especially early in the year. I think you can build off of that and our line can build off of what we had [Thursday]."
"Anders has worked very hard to get himself in the condition that he is," coach Barry Trotz said. "I think he’s been a beast around the net right through the preseason and into the regular season. I see good things for him this year if he stays healthy. Hopefully he has the good fortune to do that for 82 games. He’ll score some goals."
Lee and Barzal have long displayed on-ice chemistry but needed a new linemate after the Seattle Kraken selected Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft. Barzal mainly skated with Leo Komarov and Eberle during the 19 playoff games but he and Palmieri combined for two postseason goals in very limited shared ice time.
While Barzal is an elite skater who can hang onto the puck in the offensive zone while trying to create time and space for scoring chances, Lee and Palmieri played a more similar, straight-line game to the net. Much of their production comes from close range.
Still, it’s not a given that Palmieri is the long-term answer on Barzal’s right wing. Trotz also mentioned third-year pro Oliver Wahlstrom, off to a slow start after a shaky training camp, as a possibility during the preseason before picking the more experienced Palmieri.
"Yeah, for sure," Palmieri said when asked whether it was a confidence boost for the trio to start off with a solid game. "We got a chance to play together for a couple of preseason games. We had a couple of good shifts [Thursday] and some stuff to work on and look at and try to get better. That’s the name of the game is trying to get better every game."