Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner may no longer be regular even strength running mates -- and that's fine, as each tends to improve his linemates even while apart -- but by Bossy they better stay together on the penalty kill.
Over the last three seasons they are among the top tier in the league for generating shots at the other end while killing penalties. In that time they are among the best while shorthanded at getting the puck out, keeping it away from the ' net, and tossing danger at the goalie at the other end.
Two years ago the Islanders experimented with Grabner not being a first-choice PK guy. Maybe he was nursing a "lower body" injury, or maybe they were insane. They really shouldn't try that again. Because whether this pair is putting in shorthanded goals or not, they are simply among the top penalty killing forwards in the league, and obviously the best on their team.
Keep them together. Keep the pucks out. Diffuse every opponent's most dangerous opportunities. Win more often than not.
The Next Ones on the PK?
Because all players age, and Time's rinse cycle eventually frays the once-healthy threads in all of us, it's natural to wonder who will be next in line to take over these PK duties, or at least who will make a preferred second pairing. Last season Matt Martin, Marty Reasoner and Josh Bailey were the three most-used forwards on the PK after Nielsen and Grabner.
Reasoner is gone -- to the great relief of many fans -- and Martin has worked on this part of his game but is not an ideal option. Thursday night in Newark, we may have gotten a peek at where things are headed.
With Grabner not playing in this one, rookie Brock Nelson saw significant PK time (5:43 overall) next to Nielsen, and Nielsen's countryman Peter Regin logged 4:33 of PK himself. Nelson's overall hockey instincts are strong, the kind of smarts that make a player excel in PK situations where natural skill is nothing without situational awareness. His destiny appears to be in this mold, and it's coming soon.
Meanwhile, though shorthanded goals are about as predictable as the lottery, you can't help noticing that Josh Bailey scored two shorties against the Devils (though one was a fortuitous bounce) and threatened a third. All came by way of current linemate Kyle Okposo, who wasn't used much at all on the PK last year but who performed well in that role when Scott Gordon used him as an all-situations minute muncher.
Today and in the future, the Isles will have some interesting options for PK depth up front. But success starts with riding the Grabner-Nielsen duo until their bodies say "no more."
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