TAMPA, Fla. — Anders Lee is off his goal-scoring pace of a season ago. Brock Nelson has surpassed his goal total from last season but has slid quite a bit during the past six weeks. Ryan Strome’s second full NHL season has been a disappointment, as demonstrated by a three-week demotion to the AHL in November.
But all three have remained in the Islanders’ lineup, save for Nelson’s benching last week in Pittsburgh. With the offense in a funk — even with Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over the Senators, the Isles have scored only 14 goals in their past eight games — Jack Capuano needs these three young forwards more than ever.
“The second you start worrying about stuff you can’t control — outside the ice, outside the game — that’s when it starts hurting your game,” Lee said before Wednesday night’s win, in which he assisted on Nelson’s 24th goal of the season. “I think right now, for all of us, the best thing to do is go in with fresh minds and mental clarity. Because all the clutter in our heads is slowing us down. We’re not playing the fast game that we want to. We’re just thinking a little bit too much, myself included.”
Capuano had less patience for the struggles of at least two of this trio last spring, when he benched Lee for Games 6 and 7 of the Capitals series and Nelson for Game 5. But he seemed inclined to resist any changes heading into Wednesday night and was rewarded, at least by the Lee-Nelson tandem.
“We’re not going to have any panic with our club,” Capuano said. “Especially when you have some guys struggling, that’s the last thing you want to do. As a leader, as a coaching staff, if you show panic, the guys are going to have panic. So you want to stay positive and make sure that they understand that our staff has the faith in the guys that we’re dressing every night to try to win a hockey game.”
Even Strome, who has one point in his last 17 games despite ample time with John Tavares, is providing some positives. Lee, Nelson and Strome are three of the Isles’ top six possession forwards, with Lee leading all Islanders forwards in Corsi For percentage.
With 10 games left starting here Friday night against the formidable Lightning, the numbers need to improve. But not likely at the cost of a spot in the lineup.