New York Islanders must keep their new third-line intact

Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders‘ mindset over the past two games has infuriated the fanbase.

Whether it be a heartbreaking loss on Sunday or the collapse last night, the New York Islanders have been unable to get the job done over the last two games, although there was a positive to emerge from the 6-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

For the first time this season, Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to flank J-G Pageau with Oiver Wahlstrom on his left and Kieffer Bellows on his right. This was a move fans were begging to see, but instead they had to witness the likes of Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, and Leo Komarov.

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It’s as if Trotz was playing Russian Roulette, hoping that one of the combinations would eventually execute. But in the 6-3 loss last night to the Washington Capitals, the third-line played the best I think we have seen them play this season.

Wahlstrom dressed in his first game of the season yesterday and looked strong despite the lack of playing time thus far. The 20-year old started the scoring for the Islanders in the first period for his first National Hockey League goal. He ended the game with that goal on one shot, a hit, and one takeaway in 10:51 TOI. He did take a penalty, but to me, it was a smart play as T.J. Oshie had a glaring scoring opportunity.

Wahlstrom received some penalty kill minutes (seconds rather) as well in the loss. Kieffer Bellows, playing on the second-line in Tuesday’s game, showed an offensive mindset. Back to his third line role yesterday, Bellows continued where he left off. In 12:07 TOI, he fired three shots on goal, with two hits.

Pageau, the veteran on this line, did not contribute many offensive statistics but did win 60-percent of his faceoffs, giving his wingers more opportunities. Due to his role on special teams, he played the most minutes at 14:10.

Oliver Wahlstrom (20)
New York Islanders left wing Oliver Wahlstrom (20). Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Even in the demoralizing defeat, this new third-line was responsible in their own zone

The biggest takeaway about this line’s play last night was the fact that not one of them posted a negative plus/-. In a game where the Islanders allowed five second-period goals, this line was not out for any of them.

Now, as mentioned above, other pieces could play third-line minutes for this team. But for me, I think it is ultra-important to keep this line together. Pageau is a gifted player, and even though he is on the third line in a defensive-minded system, he is an offensive player. He showed that with the Ottawa Senators and was acquired last year because of his ability to contribute in the offensive zone.

Putting two offensive-minded players on his side allows Pageau to play his game. He is responsible in his own zone, and we saw in the loss that he does not have to be all over the stat sheet to contribute offensively. He wins faceoffs and can move the puck up the rink accurately, which is a huge thing.

The only way this line is going to take strides and build chemistry is by consistently playing with one another at practice and in games. I think both Wahlstrom and Bellows are not third-line caliber players, and head coach Barry Trotz is well aware of that. But neither is Pageau.

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We have seen Trotz use one line over the other, depending on which players are clicking during a game. The way the second line has played, I would rather see them drop down in the depth charts and see the third-line take their minutes. With back to back games against a strong Philadelphia Flyers team starting Saturday, the hope is that these three players stay together. I think it is what’s best for the New York Islanders now and for the future.