Barry Trotz has channeled his inner-Jack Capuano lately by mixing and matching forward lines to spark the New York Islanders’ offense, but the one that I would like to see return is having Josh Bailey and Anders Lee paired on the same line.
Before the season started, one of the biggest questions was whether New York Islanders Josh Bailey and Anders Lee – John Tavares’ old linemates – would be able to continue their two years of excellence without the playmaking center between them.
I always felt that the reason Lee took such a step up was more due to Bailey than Tavares. No slight on Tavares’ skill, but from my memory his easiest goals were always the work of Josh Bailey.
Early season returns were good, and have maintained quality, with both players taking a small step back in point production (as was expected in the Barry Trotz system), but they have often not been paired on the same forward line.
The offense has stalled lately, and as is very well documented, the powerplay has been pitiful. We all have our thoughts for how to improve that, but for me the first and foremost is reuniting Lee and Bailey.
The reason is that Bailey is one of the only players that seems to know how to use Lee’s strength, which is quite literally his strength and smart positioning. Anders Lee uses his size and strength to post up players in front of the net, create space and drop his stick on the ice in a position to make a play.
He’s not just a big body to distract the goalie. He’s a 40-goal scorer with skill to match his size.
Problem is, players on his unit are using him simply as a screen and shot deflector. He’s great at those skills too, but you are not giving him the opportunity for the easiest of goals that he is working hard to gain position for.
Here’s a few examples from the past year or so. Bailey looks for Lee and puts the puck right on his stick for the easiest goal you’ll get.
It’s almost as though Bailey is just using Lee’s stick as a backboard to bounce the puck off of, but it’s exactly where you can take full advantage of Bailey’s vision and passing ability with Lee’s strength and positioning.
Even in the below instances Lee doesn’t score immediately on his first shot, but he’s in perfect offensive position to keep overpowering the defenseman while using his hands and skill to put the rebound past the goaltender.
I liken it to football where a quarterback knows his receiver is open even if he looks well covered simply because he knows that his guy will make a tougher, more athletic play on the ball than the cornerback every single time.
With how little the Isles shoot this year, it’s almost incredible that Lee even has 24 goals through 69 games. If you don’t get the puck to where he does his damage and works so hard to gain position, you surely can’t expect the man to score.
Josh Bailey is the quarterback that knows that Anders Lee is open even when he has a defenseman draped all over him.
Simply put, Josh Bailey exploits mismatches that Anders Lee creates. And it seems that nobody else on the team understands how to take full advantage of Lee’s strengths except Bailey, so why not reunite them? Easy goals are the best goals, especially on an indecisive powerplay.