2. 2/27: The Nelson Line’s 5v5 Dominance
A lot of Islanders had good nights on Saturday despite the result, but the Isles’ reunited second line had their best game yet.
Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey were three of the Islanders best forwards, hands down. They weren’t just popping in goals on the power-play either, they were Saturday’s best forward line for either team at 5v5, and they did it playing unsheltered minutes against Pittsburgh’s top unit featuring Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Kasperi Kapanen.
By the end of regulation, the Nelson line had beaten their opposition 19-5 on total shot attempts, and 14-5 on unblocked shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. Most impressively, through two periods they hadn’t allowed a single shot attempt, blocked or unblocked, by their Penguins opposition.
Because of the sheer quantity advantage, the quality of shots and the scoring chances they created were bound to be tilted in the Nelson line’s favor, and they were. Brock and Co. took home 81.79% of the expected goals, 82.35% of the 5v5 scoring chances, and beat their competition 6-0 in high-danger chances.
To summarize, the Nelson line totally controlled the run of 5v5 play through 40 minutes across a variety of deployments in all three zones. They let off the gas a little in the third period, but I think that was a broader trend among the game’s final 25 minutes, as I’d say Pittsburgh overall had the better of play in Saturday’s final frame and overtime.
Now, obviously, it sucks to lose a game in which one of your 5v5 units absolutely dominates top competition the way the Nelson line did. But, there is a silver lining here, and it’s that this trio is comprised by the three Islanders forwards who struggled more than perhaps anyone else on the team earlier this season.
Through about 15 games there was a growing sect of Islanders fans who wanted Brock scratched for his run of poor play. Beauvillier, though injured for a significant string of games, didn’t produce much early in the season either. And Bailey, well, Josh Bailey literally has a portion of this fanbase mad at him, fairly or unfairly, in perpetuity.
Nelson and Bailey each logged several shots from the inner slot, and they each scored a goal. Meanwhile, Beauvillier got the primary assist on Bailey’s power-play tally and finished with the third-highest individual expected goals mark, at .36, just behind his two 5v5 linemates.
That’s not to say this one performance should overshadow all the poor ones that preceded it, but I have been saying that this trio is too talented to be that cold for an entire 56-game season.
Whether this fantastic performance kicks off a run of even better play going forward is tough to say, but it certainly won’t hurt. It’s also just very encouraging to see three forwards who were so crucial to the Islanders in their playoff bubble run performing up to their potential. More of this, please.
Note: I wrote Saturday’s takeaways prior to the start of Sunday’s game, so they may seem a bit odd without this piece of context. Yeah, the Nelson line looked great again on Sunday. They again dominated the Crosby line through two periods before a late-game surge by Pittsburgh’s top unit.