Islanders penalty-killing vulture Simon Holmstrom flirting with historic special-teams pace in 2023-24

Simon Holmstrom Islanders
Dec 15, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders right wing Simon Holmstrom (10) reacts after scoring a goal against the Boston Bruins during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

ELMONT, N.Y. — New York Islanders winger Simon Holmstrom is so confident of his partnership with Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the penalty kill that he expects to be a part of a breakaway or a 2-on-1 rush every night while shorthanded.

That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night at UBS Arena against the potent Edmonton Oilers. 

Nursing a 2-1 lead and with Brock Nelson in the box for a tripping penalty committed at the 6:19 mark, Pageau hopped on a weak pass by Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins within the Islanders’ zone intended for the point, sparking a 2-on-1 rush with Holmstrom. From the left dot, Pageau went cross-ice to Holmstrom in the right circle, who one-timed the chance past Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Holmstrom told amNewYork. “We’re going to take it. I think we’re doing a great job.”

The goal was the 22-year-old Holmstrom’s 10th of the season in 30 games after scoring six in 50 during his rookie campaign last year. More impressive, though, is that it was already his NHL-leading fifth shorthanded goal of the season, all assisted by Pageau.

“I think me and [Pageau] have played really good together,” Holmstrom said. “I’m learning from him every day. It’s been a great journey so far. I think we have a breakaway or 2-on-1 every game. It’s definitely a confidence boost. We know if we do our job out there, we might get a chance and we’re going to take it. We’re not going to shy away from it.”

Holmstrom Pageau Islanders oilers
Dec 19, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders right wing Simon Holmstrom (10) celebrates his short handed goal against the Edmonton Oilers with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) during the second period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

At his current pace, Holmstrom is projected to finish the 2023-24 season with 13 shorthanded goals, which would tie the all-time NHL record set by the great Mario Lemieux in 1988-89. The Pittsburgh Penguins legend was 23 that season, one year after potting 10 shorthanded goals. No other player in NHL history has scored double-digit shorthanded goals at age 22 or younger.

Holmstrom would be the second — a remarkable feat for such a young player who has had to adjust to “a big difference,” of killing penalties in the NHL compared to his time working in shorthanded scenarios for Team Sweden at the World Juniors or with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

“It’s a fine line,” Holmstrom said on deciphering when to flip the switch from defense to attack on the kill. “It’s a tough read to make but I think we’re doing a great job of it. I think we’re just reading off each other well.”

That’s not easy to do, but it’s a testament to the high hockey IQ the young Swede possesses.

“Holmer has good instincts, he has a good stick, and he’s creating those opportunities,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “I think it’s a recognition thing from him in terms of creating things offensively. But that comes with what we’ve talked about all year. He’s a smart hockey player.”

“The first goal is to kill the penalty,” Pageau added. “The bounces that give us the opportunity to go in and have chances, we’re thinking about the same way when we get the puck. Sometimes [when the other team is] on the power play they have a tendency to slow things down and that’s when you take advantage of it. We try to keep it simple. It all starts usually from a good stick, a blocked shot, or a good clear from our D-men.”

The formula is working: Wait for a mistake and then pounce. Three have come on a 2-on-1 while another against the Hurricanes in early November featured Pageau and Holmstrom against just the goaltender. Holmstrom to Pageau, back to Holmstrom, back of the net.

“He’s very good at giving me a stick to get open,” Pageau said. “We’ve seemed to build good chemistry on the 2-on-1’s and knowing where we’re at, when to go, and when to stay a little more patient.”

For more on Simon Holmstrom and the Islanders, visit AMNY.com