What did it take to expunge underwhelming, early season performances from Ryan Strome and Nikolay Kulemin? Teaming the two with Cal Clutterbuck, apparently.
This new, makeshift fourth line is clicking on all cylinders, and it has brought Kulemin and Strome back from the brink of being complete NHL non-factors.
The proof is in the pudding. After recording five points in his first 25 games, Kulemin has five points in the last seven games (2-3-5), according to Eric Hornick's The Skinny. Meanwhile, Strome also has five points (3-2-5), but over his last six games, as Jack Capuano has found a winning combination, and has been smart enough not to mess with it.
"I think we were changing lines a lot before, and now -- the last few games -- the lines are the same, and we're getting some chemistry with each one," Kulemin told reporters after the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals, 4-3, Tuesday at Barclays Center.
Is it simply continuity that makes these three work? I'm not so sure. Yes, they obviously benefit from learning how each other plays and getting a chance to do so consistently. However it seems there has been a wholesale buy-in by Kulemin and Strome to adapt to Clutterbuck's style of play. And somewhat surprisingly, they've thrived.
These two guys aren't Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin-types who would be expected to do the physical things that need to be done along the boards to make this line click. Both profile as more possession-heavy, skill forwards. But the way they've both been using their physicality to create chances and drive toward the net -- like Kulemin did to ultimately set up Clutterbuck's goal, his first in 20 games -- it's clear that both are comfortable playing a chip-and-chase, ground-and-pound, high-energy style of play.
There have been high hopes that Strome, a No. 5 pick, could be the style of player that could become a second-line center. Who knows? He's young and he still may be. For what the Islanders are paying Kulemin, most fans probably weren't expecting him to find a home on the fourth line. But right now, these two are having arguably their most productive stretches in an Islanders uniform, helping them sustain a three-game winning streak in the process. That has to be a beautiful sight for everyone involved with this club.