When the New York Islanders take the ice at UBS Arena against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night, they'll be doing so with a new-look top line that is going to feature two players with similar skill sets. Anders Lee and Bo Horvat are both comfortable in front of the net, screening goalies, deflecting pucks, and taking checks. Starting with Thursday's practice, they started getting comfortable playing on a line with Mathew Barzal.
“Anders — we think he can provide a little bit more, and we’re looking forward to him doing that,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “He can forecheck extremely hard, and then he goes to the net, and so does Horvat. There’s a dual-threat net presence there, which gives Barzal an opportunity.”
The way Lambert talked about how the trio could complement each other, you have to wonder if it's a combination they thought could be successful when Horvat was acquired earlier this month. At that time Lee's line with Kyle Palmieri and Brock Nelson was carrying the Islanders. While Nelson's point streak now stands at 11 games, the line has slowed down, and Lee has struggled since the All-Star break with just one assist.
Still, his 19 goals have him on pace for another 25+ goal season, and he should see an uptick in chances playing with Horvat and Barzal, two players that he has seen power-play time in recent games. “I think there’s going to be a lot of chances for all three of us,” Lee said.
"We work together and we work hard and get pucks back… I’m going to bring some low work, some corner work in front of the net. I can win some battles and get them in the pocket. "- Anders Lee
Moving Lee to the top line wasn't the only shake-up following the news that JG Pageau was put on Injured Reserve (IR) with a lower-body injury. Zach Parise, who saw minutes with Barzal and Horvat on Tuesday, was skating with Nelson and Palmieri.
Meanwhile, Josh Bailey was moved down a revised third line with Simon Holmstrom and Casey Cizikas. It's expected that newly called-up Andy Andrehoff will center a fourth of line with Matt Martin and Hudson Fasching.