For Barry Trotz, the two goals Oliver Wahlstrom scored on Saturday night weren’t the most impressive part of the game.
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Instead, the Islanders’ coach chose to highlight Wahlström skipping the gloves with Detroit’s Adam Erne when the Red Wings dropped Anthony Beauvalier in the first period of the final 4–3 Detroit victory.
“He stepped up at the time and became a really good teammate,” Trotz said ahead of Sunday’s game against the Blackhawks. “If he’s emotionally involved, he’s a better player.”
Wahlstrom, prior to Saturday, was on a long list of Islanders who struggled to produce during the team’s ongoing 10-game losing streak. Despite possessing a big shot and starting the season with five goals in eight games, Wahlström went cold. The two goals he scored in the power-play on Saturday were his first points in a month.
This could be a symptom of a bigger problem for the islands – the team’s 1.89 goals per game are only ahead of the hapless Arizona Coyotes, with Jean-Gabriel Pejo, Kyle Palmiere and Zack Parris, who have struggled to score.
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But it’s worth mentioning nonetheless that Wahlstrom not only struggles to score, but is often missing out on games. Without scoring, he has been unable to make much of an impact, and his minutes are limited. If not for the Islanders’ lineup issues, it is also possible that Wahlström may have been dropped from the lineup. Instead, Trotz has mostly placed him in the third row, where Wahlström averages only 13:05 of the ice time.
“I think he’s putting a lot of pressure on one-on-one hockey,” Trotz said. “That’s one reason I haven’t moved him up, he’s gone into one-on-one mode, and I thought yesterday, it was a sign of him being a real good partner. [standing up for Beauvillier],
“But it also freed him up to understand that you can move the puck, you don’t have to do it yourself, you can do it as a group.”
Wahlstrom could also help answer the islanders’ power-play woes, which is at the root of some of their offensive issues. Isles are converting man-advantages at just 13.46 percent, good for 29th place in the league.
Against the Red Wings, however, all three of his goals came on special teams: two from Wahlström on the power play and the third from Cal Clutterbuck while shorthanded. Trotz, who has previously mentioned that he felt the Islanders were losing momentum by repeatedly coming up empty on the power play, said on Saturday night that his play at that stage of the game felt like a step in the right direction.
“I think the most important thing is the breakout,” Wahlstrom said after the loss. “It hasn’t been pretty this year. We just have to work hard and keep working at it.”
Added Noah Dobson: “I think we’ve made some adjustments. I think we played a lot more readily on the power play.”
At this point, the islanders will happily pursue goals wherever they can get them. If he can start good games together, Wahlstrom – whose last two goals before Saturday came against the Blackhawks earlier this season – could be a possible answer.
“When he’s enjoying the details and he’s playing hockey and he’s busy right now, he’s having a lot more fun,” Trotz said. “And he’s doing more.”