The Islanders are off to a middling start (2-2-1), but are playoff bound for the second consecutive season because the team is clearly better than it was when they entered the Stanley Cup dance last season. Today the Isles have something they didn’t have in May: A second line.
Last year, after the top line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes, there was Frans Nielsen doing his thing (he’s a steady 45-point player, or thereabouts). But after Nielsen there was a hole in the lineup. Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey were the equivalent of 35- or 40-point players.
Today it would seem they have taken the next step. And although Bailey has the fewest points of the three, it’s his emergence that has been key to the hot starts of Nielsen and Grabner. Nielsen, who has a career high of 47 points, is going to match that point total by March and could top 55 points. Grabner is a proven 52-point player and 34-goal scorer. He’s an exciting penalty killer, but hasn’t been able to muster more than a 40-point pace in either of the past two seasons due to middling linemates and little power play time. But now, playing with an emerging Bailey, Grabner is back to his rookie level.
Bailey has started to come into his own since being shifted to the wing. He has posted 19 points in his past 25 regular season contests, which is a large enough sample size for poolies to at least hope that the 24-year-old has turned the corner. The ninth overall pick in 2008, Bailey made the jump to the NHL right away, so it’s been a long wait (five-plus seasons) for this to happen.
A second line of players with 50-plus points makes the Islanders’ first line that much better. Not that Tavares and Moulson needed an excuse to be better – the duo has improved each year they’ve been in the league and that won’t stop now. But perhaps instead of upping their numbers by four or five points, as seemingly happens each season, they’ll improve by nine or 10. That would be enough to push Tavares over the 90-point mark and well into superstar territory.
Another interesting twist to this season is the arrival of Tavares’ old junior linemate, Cal Clutterbuck. If he sneaks on to the top line in place of Okposo, his outlook for the season will jump from 30 points to 50. And having Okposo’s skills on the third line (but top PP unit) would add yet another scoring threat. It’ll be fun to watch this all unfold, as potentially the team could see seven forwards top 45 points this year, with as many as six above 50.
The Philadelphia Flyers can’t score. That has more than a few poolies on edge. We’re six games into the season and fantasy owners are starting to bail on the likes of Claude Giroux (one point), Wayne Simmonds (one point), Matt Read (zero), Scott Hartnell (zero) and Jakub Voracek (two points). Now is the time to pounce. Statistically, these numbers are impossible to hold in the long term. The Flyers haven’t scored a single goal with Read on the ice – that’s just dumb luck. And just 5.56 percent of the team’s shots on goal have gone in, while Giroux was on the ice. This is unsustainable. You can question a lot of things about the Flyers this year, but their ability to score is not one of them.
With Hartnell out due to injury (upper body, up to a month), it opens up a pair of opportunities. First of all, Read is up on the Giroux line. He really clicked well there last season for a couple of games before he was derailed by a rib injury. So a second chance on that line, provided he stays healthy, could pay dividends. The other opportunity is the recall of Michael Raffl, a pre-season rookie favorite of mine. Raffl had three points in his first two American League games. The undrafted 24-year-old is one to watch.
Perreault Just Ducky
Mathieu Perreault gets a fresh start with a new team and he also has the advantage of playing under Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau was his coach back in Washington when he was dominating Hershey (AHL) in scoring and was often the first call-up to the big club. Boudreau is a coach who is not yet ready to pigeonhole the talented Perreault as a checker.
So far so good. Perreault has five points in his past four games, while playing with the talented Jakob Silfverberg and the legendary Teemu Selanne.