3. Islanders Third Line Was One of Their Best
The combination of J-G Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom just works it seems. That duo has played with a number of different left wings this season, to varying degrees of success, but the constant thread there has always been that Pager and Wahlly definitely have good chemistry.
Wahlstrom’s growth this season next to Pageau has been one of the main rallying points for Islanders fans frustrated by Barry Trotz’s often veteran-heavy lineup decisions. Wahlstrom has provided excellent offensive contributions through a blend of good shooting and smart on-the-puck decision-making.
He’s also been very noticeably a solid defensive play-driver. He limits scoring chances when he’s on the ice, and by virtue of that, he limits Expected Goals totals. According to Top Down Hockey and JFresh’s player cards, he is in the 85th percentile of forwards when it comes to limiting Even Strength Expected Goals Against. (EV xGA)
That’s a big change in Wahlly’s game considering just a few years ago Elite Prospects scout Curtis Joe was saying he “could stand to be more proactive defensively.” A big part of that growth has come from playing alongside Pageau, one of the Islanders’ most defensively responsible forwards.
Sunday, Pageau and Wahlstrom lined up with Kyle Palmieri, which wouldn’t have been my first choice as far as where to have Palms skate, but it worked out really nicely.
The Palmieri – Pageau – Wahlstrom line was easily the Islanders consistently most effective forward group. They limited the Rangers’ scoring chances and shot attempts, beating them in the latter department 12-3 according to Moneypuck, and took home 88.8% of the xG share.
Pretty much across the board, this line was a force. They controlled possession, they weren’t afraid to shoot and shoot often, and those shots led to a lopsided shots-on-goal difference of 8-1.
Wahlstrom, who had been playing very well despite goal production slowing before his scratches in back-to-back games last week, looked just a touch off. He looked a little less threatening than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him, and his decision-making looked like it hadn’t quite caught back up with the speed of the game by the time he was done playing for the night. But that will come back around with more game time, I’m sure.
It was a very good night for this Islanders line. As for the rest of the forwards, I don’t think they should be as happy with their performances, but the Islanders got a big night from the Pageau line again and that will be crucial down the stretch.
Hopefully, these three can find even better chemistry going forward, but I suspect Palmieri won’t spend much more time playing with Pageau and Wahlstrom. With three days off between Sunday and their next game, the Islanders will have time to practice and get their new additions up to speed. When that happens, I get the feeling Palms will be playing top-line minutes.
But, as I said, Pageau and Wahlstrom really have made it work all season long, with a number of different linemates. So whoever ends up getting placed on their line, I feel pretty confident that they’ll figure out a way to make that player work with their already existing chemistry.