The difference between the start of this season and last season for Andrew Ladd has been night and day, according to head coach Doug Weight.
"He's playing, he's battling and doing everything all over the ice better than he was last year at this time," Weight said.
Ladd's shorthanded snipe against the Canucks was his sixth goal and 12th point in 24 games this season. That's well above his mark from this time a year ago, when he had five points (2G, 3A) in the first 24 games of his inaugural Islanders season.
Ladd came alive in the second half of the year and finished with 23 goals and has carried that momentum into this season.
"He's elevated his game from even the last half of last year," Weight said. "He's skating better than I've ever seen him as an Islander."
Video: VAN@NYI: Ladd roofs shot on breakaway for SHG
Ladd is one third of the Islanders' potent second line, along with rookie revelation Mathew Barzal and offseason acquisition Jordan Eberle. Ladd's the most likely to park himself in front of the net, a gritty element that compliments Barzal's playmaking and Eberle's finishing ability. Ladd has six points (3G, 3A) in his last eight games - largely with Barzal and Eberle.
"Ladd is a really good net front guy and he can create space," said Eberle, who is on a three-game goal streak. "You look at my goal in Ottawa, the goalie didn't really see me move to the left because Ladd was in front. He does a good job creating space for Barzal and I to maneuver around and he's got a great shot too."
The 13-year vet can finish around the net and provide another outlet for Barzal and Eberle. It was Eberle who dished to Ladd in the crease for the tying goal in Friday's 5-4 comeback overtime win over Philadelphia. He's got a finisher's mentality and touch around the blue paint.
Video: NYI@PHI: Ladd buries Eberle's feed from in close
"Everyone has their own mindset coming into a game and for me, it's shoot the puck and getting that thing off," Ladd said. "Especially playing with a guy like Barzal. Him and Eberle are always looking for those soft spots. I'm able to get there, get to the net and get the puck on net."
Ladd doesn't just need to be around the paint to score, as his shot is one of his better assets. He picked a corner on Anders Nilsson in Tuesday's 5-2 win over Vancouver and has a couple of well-placed one-timers for goals this season.
"He has a different release," Weight said. "It's tough to handle for defenders as well as goalies. It's accurate and has a lot of velocity. When he has it on his stick in those areas, he can snap it."
The two-time Stanley Cup champion has also stepped up on the penalty kill, taking Nikolay Kulemin's spot with John Tavares after Kulemin was ruled out for six months with an upper-body injury.
Video: NYI@TBL: Ladd rifles home one-timer for early goal
Ladd credits his health with his improved start. The 31-year-old feels he's moving better after changing his offseason regimen and going back to an old trainer. He looked fleet of foot when turning a Canucks turnover into a breakaway from the red line for his shorthanded goal Tuesday night. His second-half turnaround also coincided with Weight keeping him out of the lineup for a week to heal a nagging injury.
"My body is feeling better as a whole, which for me, has given me the opportunity to be more aggressive," Ladd said. "I think I'm moving better. To me that's where it all starts."