The Islanders might have found something within their middle-six on Tuesday night when head coach Barry Trotz joined Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier with veteran right-winger Josh Bailey, who was returning from a short stay on the injured list.
As a team starving for consistent offense, the perfect combination of lines was fleeting head coach Barry Trotz ever since the team acquired Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils two weeks ago — prompted by the season-ending ACL injury suffered by captain Anders Lee last month.
They had scored just five goals in their previous five games, losing three of them in the process while creating some anxiety for a team trying to keep pace with the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern division.
With Bailey back in the fold, he was united with Pageau and Beauvillier, which had been acting as the team’s third line in recent games.
On Tuesday night, they were the Islanders’ No. 1 line as the trio combined for four goals and five assists in a 6-1 victory over the surging New York Rangers, who made a charge up the standings toward the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Division after four-straight wins over the New Jersey Devils.
Bailey recorded his first multi-goal game of the season, netting two, while Anthony Beauvillier — who had three points in his previous 10 games — posted four against the Rangers (1 G, 3 A). Pageau, the provider of grit on that line, added a goal and assist himself.
A perfect combination for Trotz.
“That line was good,” Trotz said. “All three of those guys were obviously good… Everyone knows Bailey is a really smart, cerebral player. They were working. When Bailey has the balance between the cerebral and blue-collar game, he gets a lot done. With Pageau and Beauvillier, they have some speed and tenacity, and intelligence and they were able to capitalize tonight.”
Even more promising was the ease that the trio found themselves playing with.
“It’s always fun to play with Bailey,” Beauvillier said. “He’s such a smart guy out there and brings such a presence out there. You just don’t get sick of it. He’s predictable, he makes plays, he’s a competitor.
“Playing with Pageau, he’s predictable as well, works hard, gets puck deep, wins his battles. I think it was a good combination… you have to appreciate those nights when they come.”
The victory over the Rangers drew the Islanders level at 62 points with the Capitals for first place in the division with 10 games left to play.
Up next, as the hockey gods are always the adept scriptwriters, is three consecutive games against those very same Capitals — two at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday and Saturday before a Tuesday tilt in Washington.
Needless to say, no time to rest on the laurels of a dominant performance against one’s biggest rivals.
“You have to find a way to turn the page quickly whether you have a good one or bad one,” Bailey said. “When you have a good one you try to ride that wave forward… It’s not going to be easy. We and Washington have had some tough games.”