The trio has combined for 15 of the team’s 30 points this season. Grabner is tied for second in the league in scoring (two goals, four assists) while Nielsen’s five points (one goal, four assists) are tied for sixth in the NHL.
“We’ve had some good bounces,” said Bailey, who earned first star of the game honors with a one-goal, two-assist performance Tuesday vs. Phoenix. “We’re happy with the start so far, but we still have 79 games left. We’re not getting too carried away. It’s only been three games, and we just want to keep doing the right things and keep progressing in the right direction.”
Head coach Jack Capuano typically likes to use the Nielsen line against the opposition’s top scoring units. While that could limit scoring opportunities, Nielsen says that going up against aggressive forwards has played into their counterattacking style.
“All three of us like when we go against the top line, because we’re good at getting out of our own end and getting chances,” Nielsen said. “Top lines usually turn more pucks over than third or fourth lines, who get it deep and work hard from there. They want to make an extra play sometimes and we make them pay for that.”
One of the pillars to Capuano’s coaching involves creating offensive chances from responsible defensive play. The head coach is hoping to use the Nielsen line’s early results as a teaching tool.
“There’s no question that their chances have started in the defensive zone,” Capuano said. “Good defense will lead to great offense, and they’ve proven that. Hopefully we can build off that with the other lines as well. There’s a certain way we have to play, and right now they’re doing a good job of that.”
The trio uses strong skating and active sticks to break up plays in their own zone. Once they regain possession, it’s a footrace down the rink – and one that they usually win.
“We always have a lot of speed on our line, and that helps in the transition game,” said Grabner, who won the fastest skater award at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. “We’ve scored a few goals off the rush.”
“As soon as we get the puck back, we know [Grabner] is gone,” Nielsen added. “If their D is a little flat-footed, or they turn the puck over in the wrong places, we’re going to make them pay for it.”
They illustrated that in the third period Tuesday against Phoenix. After Nielsen and Brian Strait combined to take the puck off Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Bailey sent a pass all the way down the ice, which Grabner chased down well ahead of the nearest Coyotes defenseman. Earning time and space behind the Phoenix goal line, the fourth-year Islander started a tic-tac-toe play with his line mates, resulting in an easy tap-in for Bailey.
“Last night was a prime example of how dangerous Grabs’ speed is,” Bailey said. “He’s so dangerous off the rush. His speed forces D to back up and give him respect. If not, he’s going to blow by them. The way he moves out there opens up a lot of things for our line.”
Nielsen, Grabner, Bailey and co. could see a lot of Chicago forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell when they hit the road to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks Friday. Game time is set for 8:00 ET.
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