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Bentivenga: Islanders’ top line needs a shakeup after game two loss

The scoring woes of the New York Islanders were on full display on Tuesday night, as they dropped a rather flat 2-1 game on the road to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now two games into the series, some fans might be concerned about the lack of production in game two. What fans should be concerned about is the lack of production from the top line specifically. 

Matt Martin said it the best when he was quoted after Game 1, in saying that the playoffs are essentially a “race to four (wins)”. In order for the Islanders to win that race, the big guns (i.e. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle) need to be heard from.

The Islanders’ top line was lackluster to say the least in Game 1, but other key players on the roster — namely Kyle Palmieri, J.G. Pageau and Brock Nelson — stepped up and potted key goals. The only top-line player really worth mentioning from game one was Leo Komarov, and it was from his 14 hit game over anything linked to offensive productivity.

To put it briefly, the top line has been very limited in terms of their scoring chances through the two postseason games so far. Eberle leads the trio with only five shots, followed by Barzal with four and Komarov with three.

READ MORE: Bentivenga: Palmieri shines in for the Islanders in game one thriller

I’m not saying that line needs to fire away on every opportunity they get, but a combined 12 shots on goal (including nine from two of the best offensive players on the team) simply isn’t going to cut it. It shouldn’t be surprising anyone when I say that clearly the top line has taken a hit with Leo Komarov playing in place of injured forward, and Isles captain, Anders Lee. That’s not bashing Uncle Leo in any way, he’s been a solid physical presence in the lineup so far and probably deserves to play over most players waiting in the press box. But heading into a crucial game three tomorrow night, it’s pretty obvious head coach Barry Trotz needs to toss the top line in the blender. 

So who are some candidates to make the jump to the first line?

Anthony Beauvillier

To any Isles fan who knows about Barzal and his chemistry with Beauvillier, putting the two on a line should be a no-brainer.

Beauvillier, although not as shifty or crafty as Barzal, plays a similar style in terms of his speed, creativity with the puck, and ability to create offense. “Tito” is most likely also the fastest skater to pair with Barzal, meaning he’d be able to keep pace no problem. I can’t talk about number 18 without also mentioning his scoring prowess in the postseason, either. In 2019, Beau had two points in eight games that postseason… which isn’t great. However, both of his points came in round one against the Pens.

Going back to last year’s playoff bubble, Beauvillier was a man on a mission, scoring nine goals and 14 points in 22 games. Beauvillier is a unique player that can rip shots as beautifully as he can pass, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there.

Josh Bailey

This might come as a shock, or even a disappointment to some people given how streaky Josh Bailey has been recently, but over the last couple of seasons, Bailey has proven he’s one of the better offensive pieces the Isles have currently. In 54 games during the 2020-21 season, Bails had a very quiet but solid season, putting up eight goals and 35 points.

The case for Bailey to jump up to the top line really becomes apparent is his playoff performance. Last season in the bubble, Bailey was fantastic as he racked up 18 assists and 20 points in 22 playoff games to help the Isles reach the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993. Going back one year prior (against these same Penguins), Bailey was nothing short of spectacular as he scored three goals (including his famous OT winner in Game 1) and added a helper in the blue and orange’s four-game sweep over the black and gold.

Whether you like him or not, Bailey has proven he’s a playoff performer over the past couple of postseasons, and with a goal under his belt in Game 2 already moving him up might not be a bad idea.

Kyle Palmieri/ Oliver Wahlstrom

This one was difficult to pick from (given that the two play a similar game), so I just lobbed them both into one category. Both Palmieri and Oliver Wahlstrom have incredible shots, something that Barzal’s playmaking ability would be like peanut butter & jelly.

Both players have pinpoint accuracy when the puck’s on their tape and can create offensive opportunities for both themselves and their linemates. It’s tough to say which player is more likely to move up, given that both have looked good playing alongside Pageau on the third line. Going back to the regular season and judging based on that, it seems Barzal found more chemistry playing with Wahlstrom than Palmieri.

However, I’d probably say Palmieri gets a better look only because he’s scored in this series already. Capping it off from a fan’s point-of-view, I’d love to see either hop up and play alongside number 13.

 

 

 

Follow Carter on Twitter @cbentivenga14

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