There are any number of factors responsible for the Islanders’ rise from last in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall in the NHL on Jan. 17 — the day Doug Weight took over for Jack Capuano — to where they are entering Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
They occupy the second East wild-card spot and are tied for 12th overall in the league after Thursday night’s 3-0 win over the Canadiens moved them to 12-4-2 since Weight took over.
Weight himself has played a role. Thomas Greiss’ solidifying play in net — he had 24 saves for his third shutout of the season Thursday night and surely will start against the Blue Jackets — is another.
But when it comes to driving play, to having the puck more than in the 42 previous games — when the Islanders were one of the worst teams in the league in shots for/against — nothing has changed more than their top line.
Anders Lee, John Tavares and Josh Bailey had been solid since Capuano put them together just after Christmas. But in the last five weeks, solid doesn’t begin to describe it. All three have a shots for/against percentage of more than .590 in this 18-game span. Lee has eight goals and eight assists, Tavares has seven goals and 13 assists and Bailey has six goals and eight assists.
“They’ve had spans where you’re going to rip it up, get 12 points in eight games or whatever,” Weight said. “But just the way they’ve played — reliable. Not to harp on structure, but what they’re doing in the neutral zone, to tracking, to breakouts, they’re playing like a bunch of Selke Trophyists.
“And making some highlight-reel goals come to fruition at the other end. It’s been a clinic by them for six, seven weeks. They’re really confident right now and I’m confident in them. The team’s feeding off their play as well.”
Bailey had the highlight-reel play Thursday night, drawing three Canadiens to him as he crossed the Montreal blue line before delivering a perfect backhand pass to Lee cutting behind everyone for a 2-0 lead in the second period.
“I think he sold everybody in the building on that one,” Tavares said of Bailey, who set career season highs in assists (31) and points (43) Thursday night. “They tried to step up at the line like they like to do and Bails made a good read. Everyone thought he was coming my way.”
The Islanders haven’t accomplished anything yet, they say, other than making the remaining 22 games matter. Tavares and his linemates have had a lot to say about that.
Notes & quotes: Shane Prince (upper body) practiced with his teammates in Columbus and might be ready to return. Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) did not practice and will need further rest. After the game in Columbus, the Islanders are off until Thursday.