It’s never easy for a coach to tinker with a productive line - never mind a line that’s generating over half its team’s offense.
, PA Parenteau
and John Tavares
have been the Islanders’ most productive unit since the line first formed during the 2010-11 season. The trio continued to top the Islanders scoring chart through the first 34 games this season, but with the team sitting at 11-17-6 and scoring an NHL-worst 2.26 goals per game, Head Coach Jack Capuano decided to shuffle the deck.Kyle Okposo
was bumped to the top line, where he could create space for Tavares and Moulson to operate, while Parenteau was asked to bring his offensive production to Frans Nielsen
’s wing on the second line.
Eleven games into the experiment, the Islanders are 7-4-0, and Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau are the first three teammates in the Eastern Conference to each reach 40 points. The only other team in the NHL with three 40-point scorers is the Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane).
“I don’t look at stats a whole lot but those guys are an integral part of our offense,” Capuano said of his team’s top three scorers. “We talk a lot about secondary scoring and for us to be successful, we need to see more of that. That’s the way that we’re built and we have a formula for success when we play the right way.”
The Islanders took 20 fewer games this season to field three 40-point scorers than they did last season, when the same three players accomplished the feat.
When we went through the stretch that we went through, we had to tweak something and PA took it as a challenge - Jack Capuano
In 11 games since the offensive shakeup, the new-look first line has continued to dominate opposing teams’ top defenders. Tavares has scored a staggering 19 points (six goals, 13 assists), Moulson has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and Okposo has chipped in 10 (five goals, five assists).
What’s changed the team’s identity and its position in the standings is that Parenteau has maintained his offensive production on the second line. The pass-first winger has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) since Dec. 29.
“PA is very creative and he works extremely hard to get his opportunites,” Capuano said. “When we went through the stretch that we went through, we had to tweak something and PA took it as a challenge and went down there with Frans and (Michael) Grabner and he’s doing the same thing. I can’t be more happy for a guy that continues to work hard. When he goes and when that line goes, it usually leads our team to success.”
Parenteau’s steady production is the result of minor adjustments he made to bring his playmaking ability to his new linemates. Instead of slowing the game down and dishing to two of the league’s most dynamic finishers in Moulson and Tavares, Parenteau is finding new ways to create with stretch passes and counter attacks alongside two of the league’s fastest skaters in Grabner and Nielsen.
“John creates a lot of offense with his play and he’s so strong on the puck, and the good thing about Matt Moulson
is he’s always in the right spot and he’s such a good goal scorer,” Parenteau said. “It’s a little different on my new line, because Grabner is a little faster. He’s on the go all the time so I have to move the puck a little quicker than when I play with Johnny and Matt. Frans is so reliable on both ends of the ice that we can take more chances in the offensive zone. It’s a little bit of an adjustment but it’s a good one and I’m just trying to play the same game.”
Grabner, who wasn’t paired with Parenteau and Nielsen until recently, has four goals in his last six games. Nielsen has posted two goals and five assists since being paired with Parenteau.
“It’s definitely nice to play with PA,” Nielsen said. “He’s a good playmaker and easy to play with. We connected well out there and it’s been great having him on the line. It doesn’t seem to bother him – wherever he plays he’s going to play well and he’s going to produce.
For Parenteau, his flashy stats away from Tavares and Moulson have taken a chip off his shoulder.
“I think it shows that I’m an important piece for my hockey team and I can produce at this level, no matter who I play with,” Parenteau said. “It’s important for the team to have two good scoring lines.”
While Tavares and Moulson continue to produce at career rates on the top line, Parenteau’s ability to generate secondary scoring will be an important factor in the Islanders second-half playoff run.