Evaluating the NY Islanders' lineup changes

The Islanders are 3-0-0 since Patrick Roy shuffled the lineup last Tuesday.

Boston Bruins v New York Islanders
Boston Bruins v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The NY Islanders came into the 2023-24 season with a judicious view of their starting forward and defensive lineup. Having kept a similar roster since 2020, fans could predict which players would be on each line on a nightly basis. The only question surrounded the left-wing position next to Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal and the right-wing next to J.G. Pageau. Suffice it to say, that nobody stepped up and made a quality impact.

Through the first 56 games, the only changes made by either Lane Lambert or Patrick Roy was to flip Simon Holmstrom and Anders Lee between the first and third lines. Role players like Julien Gauthier and Oliver Wahlstrom were in and out of the lineup with neither taking the right-wing mantle. However, this all changed in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning as Roy 'put his balls on the table' and flipped all four forward lines around. In the games to proceed against the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins, Roy also changed the defensive pairings after Scott Mayfield was sidelined with a lower-body injury. The Islanders have responded well by winning all three of their games since Roy made these changes. However, the newly revamped lines have performed even better than expected.

The first line has found its left-winger.

In an odd turn of events on Tuesday, Brock Nelson did not take a faceoff for the first time since November 18th, 2017. In the 480 games since, Nelson has always been a centerman until Roy moved him from the second to the first line. In an attempt to create more offense, Roy decided to pair his three best goal scorers Nelson, Horvat, and Barzal all on the Isles' top line. In retrospect, fans have been clamoring for this move to be made since opening night against the Buffalo Sabres.

Nelson looked understandably uncomfortable playing with Barzal and Horvat on Tuesday against the Stars, only recording two shots on goal. The only time this trio has played together prior is on the powerplay unit, where a game plan is already put in place.

However, the star forwards have found their niche together in the games to proceed. Barzal and Nelson have combined for four goals in the last two games. Having three forwards that drive towards the net and are not limited in their shot ability has changed the complexity of the Isles' top line, a quality fans have been in an uproar about since Lou Lamoriello became general manager in 2018. The heroics of this new first-line were on full display in Barzal's game-winning goal against the Red Wings.