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Five for Five: Finding Their Stride

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New for the 2019-20 season for Isles Blog, our Rob Taub each Monday will give you his thoughts on five important things to key on for that week’s games for the New York Islanders.

The Islanders won’t play this week until Thursday night and that break in between games probably comes at the most inopportune time. Following Saturday night’s OT win, Barry Trotz’s crew has won four straight games and started to show signs that they’re playing to the identity they forged all of last season.

Mathew Barzal has shrugged off his pointless first few games of the year and is red hot; he’s produced four goals and six points in his last four games. Goalies, Thomas Griess and Semyon Varlamov, have been excellent and have settled in both individually and as a tandem. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk has again looked ageless. And rookie forward Oliver Wahlstrom has injected some new life into the offense with winger Jordan Eberle dealing with an injury.

Speaking of injuries, the break might be a blessing in disguise for the team.

Fourth line center Casey Cizikas looks like he’s close to returning which will help reunite the “Identity Line” for Trotz and his staff. Cizikas usual linemate, Matt Martin, had been a healthy scratch the past few games in part due to his absence. The third member of the trio, Cal Clutterbuck, has continued to play with Ross Johnston and Leo Komarov.

With three games in four nights — Arizona and Ottawa back-to-back, home to Philadelphia Sunday night — this week will be a good test to see if the Isles can extend their winning streak and keep their strong play going.

Here are the five things to look out for this week:

Anders Lee making an impact.

Lee has always been a notoriously slow starter, but sooner or later, he’s got to start finding the back of the net. Granted it’s only been eight games, but Lee has just two goals and an assist to show for it. Lee did record three shots in 17-plus minutes of ice time against Winnipeg, but Monday against St. Louis and Saturday in Columbus, he only had one shot to his name. The Isles offense is starting to wake up a bit — two or more goals over the last four games, including overtime — and it’s Lee who’s got to be the one to kickstart his offensive game.

Oliver Wahlstrom getting more minutes.

Through three games, Wahlstrom has made a great impression thus far. His shoot-first mentality has been a breath of fresh air for an Isles offense that’s more accustomed to making the extra pass. Wahlstrom’s come close to notching his first goal in all the games he’s played in. He’s shown he can handle the extra workload — 15 minutes on in Monday’s win and out there as the Isles were pressing for the tying goal at the end of regulation — and seeing him on the ice more might not only lead to that proverbial icebreaker but also give the team’s attack another scoring threat.

Derick Brassard, you there?

Brassard has caught a lot of flack so far from Islander fans in the early going. One point and a -5 through eight games is where he stands, not good for a player the team was depending on to anchor the third line. The 32-year-old could be given the benefit of the doubt that he is still learning a new defensive structure after being mostly being a player expected to generate offense throughout his career. But only on a one-year deal, Brassard needs to get up off the deck these next three games to get his season going.

Michael Dal Colle’s offense.

Little by little, Dal Colle has emerged from his slumber from the first few games of the season. Monday afternoon, he got his first point of the year — a primary assist on Brock Nelson’s goal that jump-started the Islanders’ comeback. Then Saturday night, he tallied his first goal of the year, driving to the net to put home a loose puck. The 23-year-old is looking more comfortable on the second line as well. Hopefully, the points start to come in bunches for Dal Colle with the monkey off his back.

Trotz’s message being the turning point.

The Islanders looked like a different team once Trotz berated their effort they showed most of the second period and in the opening ten minutes of the third in Columbus. It’s probably the angriest the fans have ever seen him since he’s been behind the bench. This early in a year, a moment like that could have a lasting effect, positive or negative. In this case, though, it worked. As for the rest of the season? Let’s hope so.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_

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