Oliver Wahlstrom was looking to shoot. That’s not unusual for the 20-year-old Islanders right wing with the blistering wrist shot.
But the 6-2, 205-pound Wahlstrom also was looking to use his big body on the forecheck and along the walls. Defensively, he was not making coach Barry Trotz want to look away. He worked well with third-line center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Leo Komarov.
In all, Wahlstrom’s 9:57 of ice time with a career-high four shots in Monday night’s 2-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden represented one of his best efforts in 13 NHL games since being selected 11th overall in 2018.
"I like the way Wahlly is moving his feet," Trotz said. "He’s fighting through the layers of resistance you hit in this league."
Wahlstrom also had a shot blocked and a missed shot for six total attempts against the Rangers, tying Anders Lee and defenseman Scott Mayfield for the team high. Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin had to stop Wahlstrom from in tight at 14:37 of the first period, and Wahlstrom hit the post at 14:46 of the third period.
Wahlstrom scored his first NHL goal in his first game this season, a 6-3 loss in Washington on Jan. 28 after nine games without a point for the Islanders last season. Monday marked his second straight game on Pageau’s line.
"He’s a bull," Trotz said. "He’s a strong man. He can shoot the puck. But I like the fact that his game is not turning pucks over. He’s got really good hands. But if the play’s not there, he’s putting it into an area, self-chipping it if he needs to. He gets it and uses his strength and his size to keep plays alive."
But Wahlstrom is still working to earn the coach’s trust.
He received five of his 14 shifts on Monday in the third period. But just one shift came in the final 9:11 of regulation after Casey Cizikas broke a scoreless tie at 11:15 of the third period and Matt Martin added a second goal at 13:20.
"Defensively, he hasn’t been a liability at all," Trotz said. "He continues to learn and continues to feed off of two pretty good veterans in Pageau and Komarov."
Notes & quotes: The Islanders did not practice on Tuesday and next play against the Penguins on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. The fourth-place Islanders (5-4-2), who have won two straight and are on a 2-0-2 streak, are one point ahead of the Penguins in the East Division . . . The NHL confirmed the 2,149 combined wins between president and general manager Lou Lamoriello (1,299) and Trotz (850) are the most for any GM-coach duo in league history . . . The Sabres, who have not played since Jan. 31 and have had their games through at least Saturday postponed with nine players on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Tuesday, were cleared to practice on Tuesday. The Islanders are scheduled to play at Buffalo this coming Monday and Tuesday.
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