Even without Ryan Strome, the New York Islanders have found their scoring groove thanks to contributions from all four forward lines.
By Justin Weiss
Many of the longest and shortest tenured New York Islanders have given New York (10-6-3) four legitimate lines, which has helped them score the eighth-most goals in the NHL this season.
John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson are thriving together on the same line, and have been with the Isles through all the good times and the bad.
“That line has been playing well,” head coach Jack Capuano told reporters following Monday night’s victory. “You have a little bit of speed and size with Brock on the wing. Kyle has played with Johnny in the past […] That line, definitely over the last week, has helped our hockey club,” via Brian Erni of Islanders Point Blank.
Veterans such as Frans Nielsen (in his 10th professional season), Okposo (in his ninth) and Josh Bailey (in his eighth) have combined for a superb 15 goals and 23 assists (good for 38 points) over the first nineteen games of the 2015-16 season.
This comes with both Nielsen and Okposo in their contract years. At 31, Arthur Staple of Newsday points out that the Danish forward still has it, as he is a momentum builder, faceoff specialist and playmaking wiz. Okposo, on the other hand, ranks second on the team in points, and is one of the most skilled non-first liners in the league.
“We’ve been together so long, we can read off one another pretty well,” Bailey told Arthur Staple of Newsday. “We know where the other guys will be.”
“We’re all pretty similar players,” Bailey continued. “It’s been fun considering how long we’ve been around each other here.”
Bailey brings his superior hockey IQ, while Nielsen possesses tremendous playmaking ability and Okposo has a nice finishing touch.
“We can’t just be a one-line team if we want to be successful,” said Okposo.
Another group of players that have never competed with each other on the same line is Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Steve Bernier — all of whom ingressed on Long Island, and now Brooklyn, over the past two seasons.
Including Bernier, who picked up his first goal of the season in Monday night’s win, everybody on the team’s “third line” has produced at least one goal, and Isles head coach Jack Capuano has taken notice.
“I think that line has been one of our best lines if you just look at their offense, their defense and the amount of time they spend in their own end,” the Isles’ head coach said. “Grabovski being healthy gives us another veteran guy, a point producer who generates a lot of offense and plays well in his own end. When those guys are going well we can use them in any situation.”
Obviously, the team’s fourth line, which was popularly nicknamed the “Mc2” line by MSG analyst and former Isles defenseman Butch Goring, has produced as well, just like they did so well last season.
Composed of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, Don Cherry dubbed the line as the “greatest fourth line ever” last season. Martin and Clutterbuck have finished one and two respectively in the hits leaderboard over the past two seasons, while “Zeeker” as he is called, has tallied 6 points in 2015-16.
“We certainly build off the momentum when we’re generating line-after-line,” Islanders captain John Tavares told the media last season. “They’ve been great for us this year, and they just do the right things, play hard, and obviously they have some skill and can make some plays,” via Islanders Insight.
In order to be successful, it is paramount that New York once again receives sustained pressure from all four forward lines.
If the two second lines continue to produce, the Isles season can go on for a long time — perhaps even last longer than a first round finish.
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