New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert swapped out Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom during last night's 2-0 win versus the Blue Jackets in Columbus last night. Lambert shrugged off the notion that separating Barzal and Bo Horvat for anything more than a few shifts was anything he was considering, but it's another example of how that duo hasn't quite figured it out yet.
Lambert has no such concerns about the line of Pierre Engvall, Brock Nelson, and Kyle Palmieri. The line has been performing like the Islanders' top line from the moment they were put together after Engvall was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in March. The way that line dominated at 5-on-5 helped strengthen the argument to sign Engvall to a long-term seven-year contract.
“I thought the line was great,” Lambert said after the game. “Brock was skating. Pierre was outstanding tonight; that was his best game of the year. And Palmieri does what he does. That was great goal by them, it was smart of Pierre to throw it at the net. And I just thought that line was very, very good. They had a lot of scoring chances."
It's been that way all season.
Palmieri scored a first-period goal for his third of the season, but that doesn't capture how effective they were last night. The line had 20 shot attempts and 12 SOG. Nelson alone had eight but uncharacteristically was unable to finish any of his opportunities against Spencer Martin, who was sharp in goal for the Blue Jackets.
Per Money Puck, the line has the third-most XGF (expected goals for) in the league amongst forwards this season with 5.3. The only lines with a higher mark are Guentzel-Crosby-Rust of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Barbashev-Eichel-Marchessault with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It's debatable that Horvat and Barzal are the team's two most talented skaters and Anders Lee is a former 40-goal scorer that has been good for 25 goals each season when he stays healthy. They very well may find their chemistry this season and surpass what Nelson's line has been doing. But for now, as it was at the end of last season, the Islanders have no more reliable or productive line than the Engvall-Nelson-Palmieri trio and last night was the most recent example of it.