Anders Lee: Next Man Up on the First Line

After struggling to find the back of the net their last two games and managing only three goals combined against Boston and Detroit, Jack Capuano has seen enough from his offense and shook up the lines again in practice today.  In particular, rookie Anders Lee was promoted to the top line to play with John Tavares and Josh Bailey, a huge opportunity for Lee to keep adding to his solid rookie campaign.

It has been only three games since Kyle Okposo went down with an injury, but Cappy apparently didn't like what he saw out of Mikhail Grabovski on the top line.  Grabovski's "demotion" to the second line is a little bit of a shock considering he scored a goal and had seven shots on goal during his audition on the top line.  It's also surprising since Grabovski brings an element of speed to that top line, a skillset that should help keep defenses honest and not have them crowd Tavares at the blue line with the puck. 

Whatever the reasoning is, it's now up to Lee to find the back of the net on the top line.  In theory Lee seems to be a good option for that top line role.  He's a big body who has a knack for picking up "dirty" goals in front of the net and isn't afraid to mix it up against defensemen.  He will never win a fastest or prettiest skater competition, but his nose for the net is something that cannot be overstated.  While 11 goals on the season may not seem like much, Lee is scoring 1.43 goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 play, the second best ratio on the team and eleventh best in the league (minimum, 100 minutes of ice time).  Quite simply, he's scores at a rate among the best in the game in his limited ice time (12:30 a night).  Of course that begs the question of why wasn't he playing more.  At least for now though, that seems to be corrected.

The most pressing issue that immediately comes to mind for that top line  is none of the three are speedsters, something that may be an issue against quicker teams.  The hope is that once into the offensive zone, Tavares and Lee will be able to control the puck for extended periods of time and create scoring opportunities.  Obviously Tavares' foot speed has never been an issue when it comes to racking up points, but it is something that is worth watching as this trio plays nightly.

One also doesn't need to watch Lee play too long before realizing his resemblance to another talented goal-scorer who wore the blue and orange.  Of course that goal-scorer being referred to is Matt Moulson, who only scored goal after goal during his Islander career.  The two have a remarkably similar game, but if anything, Lee is more willing to be physical in the offensive zone, a trait that escaped Moulson. If Tavares enjoyed playing with his buddy Moulson, he should love playing with Lee.

No one knows how long the experiment of Lee on the top line will last with Cappy known for his hair-trigger line changes.  However with Tavares and his elite play-making ability, and Bailey who seems to have found a comfort zone next to Tavares, Lee should get plenty of quality opportunities to score.  If the move does work, it will only make the Islanders that much more dangerous when Okposo does come back as they can shift number 21 to the second line to add more balance and bring a different dimension in that spot. Of course that will lead to another question of "who needs to sit" with 13 forwards for 12 spots, but that's a discussion for another day when (hopefully) all the forwards are healthy.  But that's looking way ahead.

For now Lee is the next man up to win the "Tavares Line Sweepstakes" that has many fans pondering whether general manager Garth Snow needs to add a top-line winger before the March 2nd trade deadline.  If things go the way Snow and the team hopes, Lee will make the most of this opportunity and make fans turn their attention to other areas (hey, how about a backup goalie Garth?)

The first test for Lee is Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.  It wouldn't shock this writer if he passes his first test with flying colors.

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