Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The Islanders, after a summer of major change, brought in some new veteran leadership in an effort to replace three mainstays who chose for a change in venue to begin the 2016-17 season.
Andrew Ladd, with two Stanley Cup rings in tow, was one of them, signed to a massive seven-year, 38.5 million dollar contract this past summer. And the early returns were anything but complementary for the veteran winger.
When first signed, the safe assumption by, well, just about everyone, was that Ladd would get a chance to play wing with captain John Tavares and would continue to provide the offense that produced an average of 27 goals over his last six professional seasons -- something that doesn't just happen by accident. After being given one preseason game and a little over a week, Ladd was removed from the top line and has not returned.
To be fair, Ladd's play, with or without Tavares, suffered greatly and that could be for a multitude of reasons. Gripping the stick too tight in an effort to live up to a contract that, let's be honest, he might have stood zero chance from the beginning of making good on could be one reason. His average ice time being reduced from almost 20 minutes to 16 in a more defensive role could be another. Lacking talent, to which some have suggested, is simply not on my list, nor anyone else's I have talked to around the league.
Nobody saw the regression that led to two goals and four points in Ladd's first 22 games as an Islander. His career splits will tell you that he gets better incrementally, scoring at a 20-goal pace through the new year, then a 25-goal one thereafter. Ladd, being the veteran he is, never stopped working and that was noticed by his teammates in the locker room, all who continued to stand behind their new teammate and offer support to push through the tough times.
"It's awesome," Anders Lee said after Ladd scored two goals against the Capitals on Tuesday. "He had a great game tonight and he deserves it, he's worked extremely hard. Guys like that, when they get going, they go really well. The more of that we can get from everybody, the better off we will be."
Ladd has seemingly found a home on the left side of Alan Quine and Jason Chimera -- a line that combines the speed, quickness and tenacity of Quine with two straight-ahead grinders. It's a line providing the secondary scoring the team so desperately needs if they want to continue winning games and claw their way back into the playoff race.
The line has combined for five goals and six assists over their last six games, with 27 shots on goal. Ladd is leading the way with four tallies on 15 shots.
"We're scoring some big goals at big times," Ladd said on Tuesday. "Alan (Quine), for me, is extremely underrated in terms of his play making ability and pace with the puck. For a guy who hasn't played many games in the league, he's got a strong two-way game and can make plays offensively, been real fun to play with."
In terms of his personal game being on the upswing lately, Ladd said, "When pucks start going in, you're definitely gaining confidence, looking to shoot more than when things aren't going your way. I've been around long enough to know when things are going well, you have to ride that as long as you can and keep throwing pucks at the net and use that to maintain confidence and elevate your game."
Ladd is still not on pace to match his previous six-year goal average, but if he keeps playing like he has the past six games, it might not be long before he gets there. It's the type of production that Ladd needs but more importantly, what the team needs to see on a consistent basis from one of their veteran leaders.
As hard as it might be, the distractions, pressure and media negativity that a big contract brings most of the time must continue to be the furthest thing from Ladd's mind. The singular focus needs to be a 4 x 6 target which keeps his team ahead of the opposition.
Beyond the box: Starting with Thursday night's game in Minnesota, the Islanders will play seven of their next eight on the road with a slight caveat. The league mandated 'bye-week' will be in effect the first week of January for the team. They will not be allowed to practice, either -- a complete 'blackout' of all hockey related activities. Some have already made plans to head to Las Vegas for some R&R following the New Year's Eve game in Winnipeg, with others heading home on the team charter….John Tavares was held to two shot attempts in 22:06 Tuesday against Washington….Alex Ovechkin picked up his first two points in his fourth game of the season against the Islanders, while Niklas Backstrom remains pointless….Casey Cizikas (fractured rib) should be back after the break -- perhaps next Friday in Colorado.