With another loss Saturday night to the Chicago Blackhawks in what could have been billed as a tankathon, the Islanders slide into disappointment (and potentially into a better draft slot) continued.
It's apparent that there are little positives to discuss from this year, whether you're speaking in terms of the skaters or the front office. The biggest win will that'll be remembered will almost certainly be locking up a new arena over at Belmont Park.
But rewinding a bit back to Thursday's game against Tampa Bay, Anders Lee notched two more goals in what has been a career year. The 27-year-old is among the elite players in the goal-scoring category, yet I feel there's been little fanfare or recognition given to his solid season.
Maybe it has to do with his slower second half (aka regression to the mean) or that he plays for the Islanders, but Lee deserves at least some credit for the offensive season he's having.
Near The Top
As of this writing, Lee is tied for sixth in the entire NHL with 38 goals. You know who else has that many goals this season? Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon. That's some pretty good company to be with, if you ask me.
And while Lee's point totals (59) might not jump out at you at all because the assist count is on the lower end, that's not his game. Lee isn't a finesse player in the slightest or even a playmaker, but what he is good at is parking himself in front of the net and creating havoc for opposing goalies.
At least if recent memory serves correctly, I can't remember a player on the Islanders that had such an elite net-front presence game in and game out. It almost feels that all of his goals come within a three-foot area surrounding the blue-painted crease. Obviously that's hyperbole, but if you watch Lee work around the net, he has such a strong idea of what he's doing to create space to get to pucks.
And it's not like this has been a one-year wonder type of scenario. Lee has been close to the top of the goal-scoring category with some names you may or may not be familiar with.
Since the beginning of last season, the Minnesota native is fifth in the NHL in total goals with 72. The only players that have more than him: Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, all viable Hart Trophy candidates. He's never going to be an elite assist man, we know that, but he's refined and focused his game on what he is good at, and that's a major plus for this team to build around going forward, especially when you don't know what's going to happen with the John Tavares situation.
And not only that, this is a veteran player who puts in the work and deserves to be wearing an "A" on his sweater. In all, Lee is having a wonderful season that can easily be overlooked because of his team's failures on many other fronts.
Of course because this is the Islanders, there has to be something found with Lee's game. He's a horrible skater. He doesn't help in his own end. He's quieted down in the second half. He's a product of playing with Tavares.
To be fair, some of these critiques do have some merit. Lee is definitely not the greatest defensive forward in the world, which could be due to the fact that he's never going noted as a top skater in the league. His possession numbers have taken a slight his this season, per Hockey Reference, but that could also be due to the fact that the defense behind him is a lost cause.
Playing with Tavares will surely boost your point total, but I've heard some (not all, but definitely that loud minority you see on Twitter) call Lee Matt Moulson 2.0. There's just a lot to dissect in that argument, but the short answer is that's just plain absurd.
Moulson and Lee are wingers that played with Tavares, yes, but that doesn't put them totally in the same category of players. Just watching a highlight reel of Moulson's Islanders goals, you'll see plenty of times where Tavares is nearly dancing through the offensive zone to draw the defense toward him before dishing off to a wide-open Moulson at the last second.
While Lee has definitely finished off plenty of Tavares plays, it's just not generally in the same method. Lee can continually station himself in front of the net and body up on a good portion of the defenseman in the league because of his upper-body strength. I think if anyone gets a puck near Lee, whether it's Tavares or someone else, Lee can get the job done.
As was evidenced in Buffalo, Moulson's career was so largely predicated on the success of Tavares. You can reach out to me if I end up being wrong, but I don't see this being the case for Lee.