It’s rather ironic to see the Islanders sustaining some offensive success while their playoff hopes continue dwindling, but the hole that was dug for them earlier this season from an 11-game losing streak proved too large to climb out of.
March has been the Islanders’ best month of an unpredictable season, posting a 9-6-1 record while jockeying for the No. 5 spot in the Metropolitan Division — which is nothing more than consolation rankings at this point.
While general manager Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have sent the message that the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign is about proving that this core can compete next year — and that this season was more of an anomaly than anything — some pieces are starting to click.
Veteran forward Brock Nelson, in his eighth pro season, has posted a career-high 32 goals in just 56 games thanks to a torrid March. He’s tied for the NHL league lead in goals alongside Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov with 13 since the start of the month — becoming the first Islanders since Zigmund Palffy in 1996 to score that many times in a single calendar month.
That included another goal during Tuesday night’s win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
He’s taken the opportunity to be the Islanders’ first-line center and has run with it, creating a productive line alongside captain and left-winger Anders Lee and the streaky Anthony Beauvillier.
Both have been prospering while flanking Nelson.
“Brock has stayed hot. We’re getting production from the Nelson line.,” Trotz said. “We need that. We just do. The top two lines the last 10 games have been pretty good.”
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Lee is right behind Nelson with 11 goals this month, shaking off a difficult start to the season with the prospect of hitting the 30-goal mark for the first time since posting 40 in 2017-18. He has 25 with a month to play.
Meanwhile, Beauvillier — who had eight seven goals and 11 assists entering March (47 games) — has three goals and 10 assists in his last 15 outings.
“We’ve built on every game,” Lee said. “The more and more you play with guys, the more success you have. The communication’s been there. The way Brock’s been playing hockey right now is pretty great.”
It’s a strong audition for Trotz and Lamoriello to consider keeping this line together heading into the 2022-23 season, though the two decision-makers will have some tough calls to make this offseason. That includes what the future of Beauvillier will be on this team.
But another month of production like this will make a difficult job this summer even tougher for the Islanders as the team might have just stumbled upon a potent top-two line to build things on.
“It gives us options.,” Lee continued. “All three of us are just working hard with close support in the o-zone… making plays when we need to. Nelly’s been burying a ton of them.”