BLUE JACKETS (24-26-3) at ISLANDERS (36-18-1)
TV: FS-O; MSG+
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano has tried multiple players at left wing on his top line, looking for a perfect complement alongside center John Tavares.
He may have finally found the solution.
With right wing Kyle Okposo out because of an upper-body injury, Capuano shifted Josh Bailey to that side and placed rookie Anders Lee on the left. Lee has five goals since the All-Star break and with 18 goals this season has emerged as a candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
"Obviously things have been going really well," Lee said Saturday at Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders will play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET, MSG+, FS-O). "It's a tribute to the guys I've been playing with and the success we've had throughout the whole year. As long as we're winning and keep things rolling, it's been fun to combo those things up."
Lee scored twice in the Islanders' (36-18-1) win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, again showing a willingness to park himself in front of the net. In many ways, Lee's game is similar to Matt Moulson, who was Tavares' left wing when the latter first entered the League in 2009.
"He's probably as similar to Matt as anyone I've played with since Matt was traded," Tavares said. "He just has a nose for the net. He gets there with very good body position and knows how to get his stick open and just be in the right spots."
"It pays dividends when you go [to the net]," Capuano said. "There's a lot of guys that talk the talk that want to get to the paint and get to those dirty areas where you're gonna pay the price, but you've gotta do it. Anders is one of those guys that does it."
It's been a great fit alongside Tavares thus far, and it's hard to envision Lee being moved to another line when Okposo returns from injury. Lee understands the opportunity he's been presented and plans on making sure it isn't temporary.
"I was excited. It's a great opportunity," Lee said. "To be able to play with Johnny and [Bailey] has been really cool. These guys are great linemates and great teammates. For us to hopefully continue to build our chemistry and help this team moving forward is something I'm looking forward to."
Columbus (24-26-3) is coming off a 4-3 overtime win Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets trail the Boston Bruins by 12 points for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Here are the projected lineups:
Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - Scott Hartnell
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Artem Anisimov - Alexander Wennberg - Jack Skille
Corey Tropp - Mark Letestu - Jared Boll
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Kevin Connauton - James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin - Cody Goloubef
Scratched: Jordan Leopold
Injured: Nathan Horton (back), Ryan Murray (ankle), Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), Boone Jenner (back), Brian Gibbons (knee), Jeremy Morin (heart), Dalton Prout (upper body).
Anders Lee – John Tavares – Josh Bailey
Mikhail Grabovski – Frans Nielsen – Ryan Strome
Nikolay Kulemin – Brock Nelson – Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Colin McDonald
Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
Brian Strait – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Matt Donovan
Injured: Michael Grabner (upper body), Kyle Okposo (upper body), Eric Boulton (lower body), Calvin de Haan (facial cut)
Status update: The Blue Jackets held an optional skate after playing Friday night. Coach Todd Richards will address the media Saturday afternoon. … Grabner participated in the morning skate and should be off injured reserve "soon," Capuano said.
Who's hot: Atkinson has three goals and one assist in his past four games. Lee has 18 goals and trails Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg by one for the League lead among rookies. Lee has a three-game point streak. McDonald has two goals and two assists during his three-game point streak.