New York Islanders: No internal answer for top line right now

New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26). Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports
New York Islanders right wing Oliver Wahlstrom (26). Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s a top line problem for the New York Islanders at the moment.

The New York Islanders have been longing for an elite scorer to play alongside the talented Mat Barzal since he became the team’s top centerman. Rookie forward Oliver Wahlstrom seems to be growing exponentially into that caliber of a player, but the time for him to play on the top line is not right now.

Prior to Anders Lee’s season-ending ACL injury on March 11, fans were more than comfortable seeing Wahlstrom slotted in alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the third-line. He seemed to be clicking with the versatile veteran as he learned the NHL game one shift at a time.

Once Lee fell victim to injury, however, the call for the 20-year old rookie to take his space filled social media and Islander conversations everywhere. But it never happened. Instead, Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz slotted the defensive-minded Leo Komarov in his place. The move has not worked production-wise, as opponents have been able to focus their attention solely on No.13, as the gritty veteran has failed to bury any of his chances.

Although it seems more than likely that the Islanders will make a move prior to or on April 12, the NHL Trade Deadline, right now it seems that General Manager Lou Lamoriello is playing the waiting game. The other lines have been able to pick up the slack of the top line, like the third-line, which I nicknamed the “Determination Line”. They have been the Islanders best line by far ever since Beauvillier was swapped with Michael Dal Colle.

However, Komarov on the top line is just not doing enough for what this team needs. This Islanders team needs someone that is going to finish off the plays that Barzal creates. This has been the biggest issue since Barzal broke out in the NHL.

I think it is obvious that Wahlstrom will play on the top line with Barzal for years to come. But right now, given how well Wahlstrom has played with Pageau, breaking those two up would not help this Islander club get better. It would just maneuver the scoring to the Barzal line, not add to it.

It is all about balance at the NHL level and if the Islanders were to put Wahlstrom on the top line, the balance of this lineup is thrown off extremely.

It is imperative that No. 44 and No. 26 stay together at all costs.

Anthony Beauvillier (18)
Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders/ (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

New York Islanders may need to look to external options to solve top line problem

I thought maybe it was time for a reunion with Anthony Beauvillier alongside Barzal given his strong play as of late. Over the last four games, the 23-year old has heated up with four goals in four games. Pageau has played a role in three of the four goals.

I mean at this point, why not give depth defenseman Thomas Hickey a chance, a player who has played wing before. Neither Kieffer Bellows nor Austin Czarnik have shown to be the answer. Ross Johnston has been given the least amount of opportunities, which says that he is not even a thought.

The answer lies on another team.

Any internal move right now will help one line, but hurt another. Yesterday, the St. Louis Blues scratched a healthy Mike Hoffman, a sniper by trade. Could he become a new focal point for a trade? Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils seems like another strong option. But again, it seems we will have to wait a couple of weeks to get our answer.

Given how the standings are shaping up, the hope is the Islanders can survive the wait. Since Lee’s injury, the Islanders are 6-3. The Islanders have averaged 2.78 goals per game over that span but have allowed that exact average against per game (25 GF, 25 GA).

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The New York Islanders have survived, but even tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with 21 games remaining on the schedule, is a major one. A loss in regulation means that the Islanders will fall into third place in the East Division as the pressure will start to elevate even more as we move ahead towards the final month and a half. The longer the team waits to acquire a piece, the more pressure there is on a lineup that just does not have enough strong pieces to be as effective.