Despite all of the good things Ryan Strome had been doing for the New York Islanders this season, his first goal had proven elusive and he was starting to feel the pressure mount.
So when Strome drove to the net and instinctively one-timed a Brock Nelson feed past Semyon Varlamov on Tuesday night, a sense of relief accompanied the red goal light.
“It’s good to get the monkey off of my back,” Strome said. “I can breathe a bit easier and there’s a little less pressure [on me].”
Strome’s low goals total shouldn't overshadow his other contributions to the lineup. Strome has 10 points (1G, 9A) in 15 games this season and is becoming another highly-versatile player on the roster. A natural center, Strome has bounced between pivot and wing as well as up and down the lineup in a number of different roles. Additionally, he’s played on the top power-play unit and is now taking on penalty kill responsibilities.
“Goals are the object of the game, but there are other ways to contribute,” Strome said. “I’ve been given some more opportunities, so I’m just trying to make the most of them, play smart and helping the team. Whether it’s PK or PP, I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunities and earn the ice time.”
Killing penalties is a new dimension of Strome’s evolving game. He’s done it sparingly in his hockey career, but has shown an aptitude for it in recent weeks and is earning more ice time because of it.
“He’s an all-around player,” linemate Brock Nelson said. “I think he’s built that into his game over the years and we’re seeing him succeed now on the penalty kill, power play and five-on-five.”
Prior to the Islanders Western road trip, Strome played just over one minute on the penalty kill this season. On the Western trip, Strome played 4:18 shorthanded against the Arizona Coyotes, 2:34 against the LA Kings and 1:24 against the Colorado Avalanche at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. Strome was the Islanders second most-used forward (shorthanded) against the Coyotes, playing one second less than Nikolay Kulemin. The PK was perfect in all three games and has only allowed two power-play goals with Strome in the shorthanded mix.
Head Coach Jack Capuano said Strome's aptitude on the kill stems from his offensive instincts.
“When you’re an offensive guy and a power-play guy, you understand when you’re on the other side of the puck what the power play is trying to do against you,” Capuano said. “I like the fact that he’s won some big faceoffs, especially to our goalie’s right side.”
Capuano praised Strome’s hockey IQ, but said he has been harping on the skilled player get to the dirty areas more often.
“It was good to see him go to that greasy area below the hashmarks in that five-foot area outside the paint,” Capuano said. “He is a versatile guy, I’m happy that he scored, but he has to continue to play with an edge.”
Playing on the penalty kill may be a good way to entice Strome into those dirty areas. But even without many goals to his credit, Strome is proving he can make an impact.