The Isles are only holding first place in the Metropolitan Division by five points. A short Islanders losing streak or an equally short Capitals winning streak could upset that status.
To ensure continued success for the Islanders, Trotz has been experimenting with the lines, searching for the perfect chemistry among the team. In the last few weeks, he’s been adamant about various players and lines not producing as expected and about rectifying the situation.
Barzal’s and Komarov’s lines are under the most scrutiny. Barzal-Eberle-Beauvillier and Komarov-Filppula-Dal Colle have been on the lower side of the Isles’ scoring spectrum as of late. Cizikas, whose previous career high in goals was 9, has surpassed Bailey this season. After scoring twice against Columbus on Thursday, Cizikas has 15 goals whereas Bailey only has 12. That’s not the differential usually expected between first- and fourth-line players. Even Barzal has been somewhat lacking this year: at this point last season, he had 16 goals and 59 points; so far this year, he has 16 goals and 49 points. It doesn’t like such big difference – only ten assists short – but it implies that he or his line were involved in ten fewer goals.
The biggest changes have been to the third line, which has been lacking the most and, as a result, featuring the most players. From the beginning of the season, Komarov, Kuhnhackl, Dal Colle, Johnston, Beauvillier, and Ladd have all split time on the third line. Ladd’s season-long injury allowed Kuhnhackl, Dal Colle, and Johnston to each see several games, and all have had varying levels of success. Dal Colle made the best fit for a long time beginning in December when he was called up from Bridgeport, to most fans’ surprise, before the roster freeze. Kuhnhackl also plays well when given the chance, but not well enough to make the case for his permanent addition to the line. Beauvillier seems to have the most success with Filppula and Komarov, yet he continues to be jumbled around in the lines.
It’s important to remember that the third line is not a demotion. It’s just a different style of play, not quite as fast and fancy as the first line but also not as rough as the fourth line. This season, Beauvillier has taken up the role Lee used to fill. More often than not, he parks himself in front of the net to screen the goalie, fight with the defensemen, and get his stick on tip-ins and deflections. He chases the puck behind the net and sends it to the crease or the slot where a teammate should be waiting. Especially in the last few games against Minnesota, Buffalo, and Columbus, Beauvillier’s been eager to chase down the puck and make plays. His main problem when playing this style in front of the net is that he gets pushed around too easily. He’s either pushed off the puck or away from it or has his stick lifted away from the deflection opportunities.
With more experience on the third line and maybe another twenty pounds of muscle, Beauvillier would make an excellent permanent addition to the third line. He has the speed and skating ability for breakaways and the eagerness to fight for the puck in front of the net. Yes, he has great chemistry with Barzal as well as the impressive skills to fit on the first line, but as the team currently stands, his best placement seems to be the third line. Instead of trailing behind Barzal and infinitely passing the puck with him, Beauvillier could lead the charge with Komarov and Filppula.
Whichever changes Trotz thinks are working, he needs to stick to some soon. The team could only have more success if each line is allowed enough time together to bond and form better chemistry. Switching the lines as constantly as he does makes everyone play well together but also make everyone play sloppy together.
When the players don’t know who is on the ice with them or where they’ll be on the ice, errant passes become opportunities for the other team that the Isles desperately need to avoid at this point in the season.
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