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Special teams continue to play vital role for Islanders

New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom reacts

New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom reacts with defenseman Nick Leddy after his power-play goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period at Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For now, consider Oliver Wahlstrom a fixture on the Islanders’ power play.

Which means coach Barry Trotz will shuffle Anthony Beauvillier with defensemen Noah Dobson and Ryan Pulock on the other power-play unit when the Islanders face the Devils on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.

It marks the start of a stretch of seven of the next eight games against either the Devils or the Sabres, currently seventh and eighth in the eight-team East Division, respectively. It also starts a grueling stretch of 16 games in 28 days.

And though it won’t be their home arena, the Islanders will be playing in front of fans for the first time since March 10, 2020, in Vancouver, their last game before the COVID-19 pandemic paused last season.

 

The Devils are opening their doors to approximately 1,800 fans for the first time, and it was expected that Islanders fans might be able to secure some of the limited tickets.

The Islanders (11-6-4), who are two points behind the East-leading Capitals, were off Monday after concluding a 3-0-1 homestand with a 2-0 win over the Penguins.

Special teams played a large role in their successful homestand, part of a stretch of nine of 10 at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders’ power play was 4-for-10 in the four games, including 2-for-5 in Sunday’s victory. That left the Islanders’ man advantage 11th in the NHL at 25% (15-for-60) after ranking 24th last season at 17.3%.

Their penalty kill is 10th in the league at 81.5% (44-for-54) after going 10-for-12 on the homestand. Last season, the Islanders’ penalty kill ranked 17th at 80.7%.

Trotz made one change Sunday, leaving Wahlstrom on the second unit with defenseman Nick Leddy, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey. Pageau and Wahlstrom had power-play goals. Beauvillier had been with that unit before missing nine games with a lower-body injury.

Wanting to reinsert Beauvillier into the power-play effort, Trotz instead placed him with Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee, with Dobson and Pulock taking turns on the unit. Before Sunday, Trotz had Dobson quarterbacking the unit with the right-shooting Pulock setting up for one-timers in the left circle. That’s where the right-shooting Wahlstrom is placed on the other unit.

"Beau’s a pretty important player for us. He’s been on the power-play unit since I’ve been here," Trotz said. "He’s been injured and I felt it was part of his DNA that he’s a guy that thrives a little bit on the power play. I think he gets momentum off of it. So we wanted to get him on it.

"We know that Dobson is going to be a real good power-play guy, and Pully. What we talked about with Pully and Dobber and Beau is that we felt, on that unit, we’re going to use all three of those guys."

Pulock leads the Islanders with 22:46 of average ice time, and Trotz said he can manage the defenseman’s minutes by rotating him off the power play at times.

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