Josh Bailey continued to silence his critics on Thursday with another clutch, multi-point night, highlighted by a beautiful set up for John Tavares.
With just over five minutes remaining in the first period, Anders Lee allowed the Islanders to take possession in the Vancover zone where Bailey picked up the loose puck. He took the puck on his backhand, looped to his left in a circle to shake Luca Sbisa, skated up the boards, and cut back to his forehand and turned toward the net. Bailey drew the puck back to look as if he was going to take the shot, which drew Sbisa and Bo Horvat to him and allowed Tavares to find empty space in the near circle.
Bailey slipped a crisp, no-look, cross ice feed to Tavares, who had the whole net to shoot at, as the captain hammered home his 25th goal of the season.
Bailey, who also assisted on Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson's goals, registered three helpers on the night to push his total to 37 for the year. The 37 assists and his 49 points are career highs.
Bailey has just simply reached another level, and it couldn't happen to a better guy. Just look at this play and it's easy to see that any pessimistic narrative that Bailey is simply benefitting from playing with JT is foolish. Of course, Tavares makes Bailey better, but this season, Bailey is also making Tavares better. And that's what we've always wanted to see from one of JT's wingers.
Bailey has always had innate playmaking ability, but the way he's refined those skills and harnessed them to work in this insane chemistry that he has with Tavares and Lee is what is making all the difference. I don't know if I would have trusted Bailey to make that play on JT's goal even as recently as this October. But his instincts seem so spot on that he's the Islanders forward I probably trust most on the ice right now, with or without the puck.
I really hope Bailey has permanently unlocked something, because if he has, it's going to make this forward group lethal, and that's what this team needs to compete with the elite teams in the Metropolitan division.