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Bentivenga: Could Oliver Wahlstrom draw in for Game 4?

The Islanders now trail their best-of-seven series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, as the defending Cup champs took a tight 2-1 contest in game three on Thursday night. 

This is uncharted territory for the Isles, who currently lead the postseason in goals scored (48). What is that territory?

For the first time in a long time, the Isles are struggling to score goals. Five goals in total through the first three games of the Stanley Cup Semifinals, including only one in last night’s deflating loss. They’ve actually played two solid games through the first three (with the lone exception being the 4-2 loss in Game 2), but five goals in three games simply isn’t going to cut it, especially against a Lightning team that can defend as well as they can score. 

When asked about what the lineup could look like for Saturday’s game four, Isles head coach Barry Trotz started out by saying he thought his club played a “pretty solid game” on Thursday night (which was true in many aspects of the game). However, it was a response to Newsday’s Andrew Gross regarding forward Oliver Wahlstrom that caught the attention of a lot of Isles fans.

“I have a lot of faith in what Wahlly can do if I put him in,” said the Isles’ bench boss earlier today. “He is an option for us going forward. We had a big discussion on if he comes into the lineup or not, we haven’t made any decisions.”

Trotz ended that answer by stating it would be a “coach’s decision” on whether or not we see the 21-year-old for Game 4. 

There’s a lot to unpack in those brief quotes from Trotz, and a lot of praise for the Isles’ young sniper. So, hypothetically speaking, say Wahlstrom does draw into the lineup in game four… what would he bring to the game?

Well, the obvious answer to that question would be his shot. Wahlstrom is one of the few players on the team who has a “shoot-first” mentality, in addition to having one of the most dynamic shot releases on the team, if not the best. Not trying to discredit anyone at all, but the Isles haven’t had to face a goaltender as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy in this year’s playoffs; they faced a historically bad playoff netminder in Tristan Jarry in round one, and an injured Tuukka Rask in round two. Vasilevskiy hasn’t given the Isles any “softies” during this series (yet), and the Isles are going to need to fire away on as many shots as they can if they want to score on the man they call “The Big Cat”. With a player like Wahlstrom in the lineup, the team’s shot totals are practically bound to go up with the way he can create scoring opportunities.

Another huge impact Wahlstrom would have on the game would be through the Islanders’ power play. Even while playing up a man, the Isles don’t have many players with a preference to shoot first… enter Wahlstrom and the dynamic changes completely. Like many young right-handed snipers nowadays, Wahlstrom loves to hang by the left circle on the power play, an area dubbed “The Ovi Office” after Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. Mix in the stat of the Isles’ power play only sitting at 12.5% (one-for-eight) over the course of this series.

So, having Wahlstrom and his blistering one-timer sitting at the left dot would be an extremely welcomed addition.

READ MORE: Taub: Islanders made it to too easy for Lightning in Game 3 and it has to change

One final element of Wahlstrom’s game (and perhaps his most underrated) that he brings to the lineup would be his physicality. Wahlstrom is a unique blend for the Isles, mainly because he can make an impact along the boards as effective as his ability to put the puck in the net. In the five games he appeared in through round one, Wahlstrom threw the body a total of 12 times. That might not seem like a lot compared to guys like Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, but it’s impressive to see that from a player with as high of an offensive ceiling that Wahlstrom has.

Now that we’ve gone over what a young player like Wahlstrom can bring to the lineup, there’s only one question to be asked… who would be taken out to open up a spot?

Trotz has already been public in saying he believes Leo Komarov is the best option to play on the top line alongside Mathew Barzal (although immediately putting Wahlstrom on the top line likely wouldn’t be the best idea), so that line would likely remain intact. Despite what many fans think, Komarov has also been solid on Barzal’s wing even though the offensive numbers aren’t quite there.

The most likely option would be making a change to the third line (the trio of Kyle Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Travis Zajac), with Zajac being the most likely candidate to draw out. Zajac’s been decent since he was inserted into the lineup for game six against the Penguins on May 26, but not good enough where his spot in the lineup would be guaranteed. Plus, as well as Zajac has been, the Palmieri-Pageau-Wahlstrom line was incredibly good during round one.




Follow Carter on Twitter at @cbentivenga14



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