Chemistry on Islanders’ top line could be work in progress
EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Islanders’ chemistry could be a work in progress at the start of the season.
After missing the first half of training camp while helping Canada win the World Cup of Hockey, John Tavares has had just a week of practice and one preseason game with the Islanders. While the international tournament likely has the captain in good condition, he hasn’t had much time with his new line, which added a new member days before the season opener.
“I don’t think there’s any formula to it,” Tavares said after practice Tuesday. “Sometimes things take a little longer, sometimes they just click first time you step on the ice.”
With Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen gone via free agency, Tavares was set to be joined on the top line by newcomers Andrew Ladd and PA Parenteau. That duo worked together in Tavares’ absence, and the trio teamed up during practice last week and in the preseason finale — a 4-0 loss at Washington on Sunday. However, Parenteau was waived earlier this week in a surprising move.
After a day off Monday, Tavares and Ladd skated with Jason Chimera, another free agent acquisition.
“It could be a good line combination, all veteran guys,” coach Jack Capuano said. “I liked what I saw today. I like the speed of that line.”
The trio has produced — albeit separately — in past years. Tavares has topped 66 points in five of the last six seasons, Ladd has scored at least 46 points in seven of the last eight campaigns and Chimera reached 39 points in three of the last five.
Tavares has played against both players for years and thinks he knows their tendencies, which should help.
“I have a good sense of their game and their identity as a player and how they can fit into our team framework,” he said. “Developing chemistry with linemates is just a lot of communication and trying to read off one another.”
Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, knows the team’s success hinges on how quickly he adapts to playing with Tavares. To that end, he’s keeping his approach simple.
“Just trying to get a feel for what Johnny wants to do offensively with the puck,” Ladd said. “He’s very skilled 1-on-1 so a lot of times maybe you can give him a little space to beat a guy and find some open space. Play give-and-go hockey, I think it’s probably a good start.”
Parenteau’s departure allowed the Islanders to keep 19-year-old prospects Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier on the 23-man roster, at least to start the season. Shane Prince and Alan Quine, who both had key goals during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring, were also among the 14 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies who survived the final cuts ahead of the season opener at the crosstown-rival Rangers on Thursday night.
While the top line adapts and Capuano sorts out other combinations, the coach believes he’s found the solution to the void created on the Islanders’ vaunted fourth line by Matt Martin’s departure. Nikolay Kulemin has been skating with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas since joining the team after the World Cup, and Capuano likes what he’s seen from that trio.
“The energy that they bring in losing Martin on that line and adding (Kulemin) there,” Capuano said, “to me it’s tough to separate those three guys and so right now they’re going to stay intact for sure.”
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