During Saturday night's Islanders-Capitals game in Bridgeport, Anders Lee was back in his office, crowding the front of the net, creating traffic and looking for a tip or rebound.
It'd be understandable if Lee were hesitant about going back to his office after breaking his fibula last season, the result of taking a Johnny Boychuk slap shot off the leg. But even with Ryan Pulock looking to tee up his glass-breaking shot on Saturday, Lee was happy and willing to park himself in front of Braden Holtby. It paid off, with Lee collecting Pulock's rebound at the top of the crease and chipping it past Holtby for his first goal of the preseason.
"It's what I've been asked to do and something I like doing," Lee said. "It's a part of my game and nothing changes. I'm just trying to improve on every aspect of my game even that one is one of them. It's nice to get back there."
Video: WSH@NYI: Lee chips in rebound over Holtby
Lee's injury came in the final games of the Islanders' regular season, which caused him to miss the postseason. While the front of the net has its fair share of hazards, from pucks to cross-checks to slashes, Lee sees it as simply bad luck. He's appeared in at least 76 games in the last three seasons (that includes his combined NHL-AHL games in 2013-14).
"It just comes with the territory, you see pucks fly by you all of the time and that was just one that happened to catch me and it got me in the right spot," Lee said. "It was a little fluky, bad luck, it happens, but you can't be thinking about stuff like that and you can't play tentative. Still standing in front of the net, that's what I'm known for in this league, so nothing's changed."
The front of the net is where Lee is most effective. He's a sturdy 6'3, 228 lbs., hard to move with good hands and an ability to finish in tight. His highlight of the season was throwing down Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang in a net-front battle and tipping home the game-winning goal.
Video: PIT@NYI: Lee's deflection gives Islanders the lead
"I wouldn't expect anything different," Islanders assistant coach and assistant GM Doug Weight said. "He's a bit of a machine, that's where he knows he's going to get paid. He goes to the net and is tough to move. He's got great coordination around the net as well so [the injury is] not going to change his game."
Lee can help create offense even when he doesn't score just by taking away the goalie's eyes and causing havoc around the net, but he wants to hit the scoresheet as often as possible. He scored 25 goals two seasons ago, so scoring 15 last year left a bit to be desired by the Edina, Minn., native. He's hungry for more this year.
"That was kind of the toughest part - the season didn't go the way I wanted it to and the last some odd games I was finding it and was really playing well," Lee said. "To have it end not on my own terms stinks, but just bad luck and something that motivates you all summer and makes you look forward to the following year."
Lee was nearing a return during the end of the Islanders second-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but gave himself some extra time to heal after the team was eliminated. He had a chance to really test it out over the summer in Da Beauty League, a summer hockey league for NHLers in Minnesota, and said everything checked out (he scored 13 points in nine games in the tune-up league). With the season less than two weeks away, Lee is both comfortable on his repaired leg - and back in front of the net.
"It's a physical game in there," Brock Nelson said. "You have to hold your ground as best you can and obviously Anders is a big kid, so he does that quite well, one of the best actually. Good on him for getting right back in there and not being afraid… we'll need him there.