The Islanders have tried five different players on the line alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee in their last four games.
Author: Ethan Sears
Published: 2022-01-23 12:06 am
Islanders still searching for third player to fit on top line
nypost.com

The Islanders have tried five different players on the line alongside Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee in their last four games.

Between Josh Bailey, Kieffer Bellows, Zach Parise, Austin Czarnik and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who played the third period on the first line after Czarnik was demoted to the third line Saturday night, an adequate solution has yet to present itself.

“Czarny’s done a really good job, I thought, with Barzy,” head coach Barry Trotz said following the Islanders’ 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. “Tonight they weren’t getting much done so I looked to change it a little bit.”

When the Islanders were down two goals headed into the third period, Trotz said he was looking for a spark. The offense generated good chances in the third, but failed to score a goal.

“It was tough to generate stuff, so I was just looking for a spark,” Trotz said. “We needed a goal to get us a bit closer and we just couldn’t get it.”

(image)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, trying to put one in the net in the third period, is one of a group of Islanders who have recently seen time on the first line with Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee.
Robert Sabo

Pageau said he’s happy to play wherever he’s needed.

“It doesn’t really matter who I’m playing with,” Pageau said. “I just try to play my game, play my role. I know what I need to do to be successful and it’s to work hard and to play with urgency.”

Bailey spent most of the year on the first line, but since Kyle Palmieri was injured last month, Trotz has preferred Bailey to play with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier on the second line.

That has left a hole to Barzal’s right, however, which the Islanders have struggled to fill. Parise, after a solid game, seemed as though he could stick, but the very next game, Czarnik was in.

With Palmieri still hurt (and he had played poorly before suffering his injury), the problem isn’t going away. For the Islanders to compete at the playoff-level they desire, they need their top line in sync and playing to its potential.

Barzal is a hard player with whom to build chemistry. His high-level skating ability means linemates often get the puck in unorthodox spots. Oliver Wahlstrom, an offense-minded player with a big shot, would seem an obvious candidate to play on Barzal’s right, but he was a healthy scratch Saturday and hasn’t yet gotten an extended look.

“The consistency has been all over the map for me and that’s where I’m trying to reel it in a little bit with him and a couple guys,” Trotz said when asked why Wahlstrom was scratched. “Being a really good pro, and I think Wally’s gonna be a good pro, is [about the] consistency level every night.”

The Islanders were uniform in saying that playing six games in 10 nights had little to do with their poor performance.

“I think we feel good,” Zdeno Chara said. “Obviously we knew what the schedule was gonna be like after the break.”

The Islanders honored the late Clark Gillies with a tribute video before the game. They also wore No. 9 patches on their jerseys.

Casey Cizikas was back in the lineup after suffering a cut above his eye.

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