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Okposo Finding Offensive Groove

Right wing Kyle Okposo has come on strong late in the season, pushing the Islanders into the driver's seat of a tight playoff race

Monday, 04.8.2013 / 3:21 PM ET / News
By Travis Betts
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Okposo Finding Offensive Groove
Kyle Okposo is used to battling in the "dirty areas" for points, but his efforts have shown up more on the score sheet over the last eight games (Photo: Getty Images).

The effort and energy have been there all season for Kyle Okposo, who’s embraced his physical, grinding role as a power forward on the Islanders top shut-down unit. After an admittedly slow start statistically to the 2012-13 season, the Islanders right winger has turned things around with points in seven of his last 12 games.

Okposo says he hasn’t made any radical changes to his game to account for his production, but in recent weeks his hard-nosed style has worn on opponents, causing turnovers and generating opportunities for his line to strike.

“I’m playing with some confidence,” Okposo said. “Obviously, it was a frustrating start to the season for me. But you just have to keep going. We have a chance to make the playoffs and that’s what really makes me tick.”

The Islanders are 6-1-1 in their last eight games, and secondary scoring has been a big reason why. The line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes line was responsible for the lion’s share of the offense in the early stages of the season, but recently, the trio of Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey has paid dividends for the Islanders, producing a goal in each of the last four games. Three of the four goals gave the Islanders the lead, while the other was Okposo’s game-tying marker late in regulation to force overtime Thursday at Washington.

Okposo’s non-stop motor has been paramount to the line’s success in recent games.

“I think when he’s going, that line is better,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “He’s just working harder. With the lockout, it takes certain guys a little longer to get going. Maybe he was one of those guys. But he’s doing the right things - playing physical, shooting pucks. He’s making plays and showing a lot more confidence. He’s much more relaxed and when you do that and have the poise that he has, you’re going to have some success.”

In the second period Saturday at home against Tampa Bay, Okposo maneuvered around the Lightning zone before setting up Bailey in front of the Lightning net for a go-ahead goal in the second period. It was exactly the combination of battle, determination and patience that makes the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft so dangerous.

“It was a heck of a play by Kyle,” Bailey said. “He had the puck on a string out there. He beat a couple of guys and showed great patience. He found me in front with my stick on the ice. I didn’t even really see the puck come through, but I tried to get ready because I knew he was going to put it there.”

The goal, which came less than four minutes after Tampa Bay had tied the game, gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead and sparked the team to a 4-2 victory. Okposo believes the line’s biggest contributions come in the form of a solid two-way game, which in turn produces opportunities that show up on the score sheet.

“We’ve been responsible defensively and it’s been leading to more offensive chances too,” Okposo said. “We trust each other – we know where each other are going to be, and that if one of us makes a mistake, they’re going to get back or someone is going to cover for them.”

Nielsen added that when the line was struggling to find its groove in February, the focus remained on defense first. And their fortunes have reversed lately: the trio has combined for 20 points and a plus-18 rating over the last nine games, dating back to March 22.

“We’ve been good without the puck and played good defense. That’s what we talk about when we’re struggling and it’s the change we made. It’s not like we changed anything offensively. It’s our game without the puck that’s helped us.”

Nine games remain on the regular season schedule, with a two-point gap between seventh and 10th place in the Eastern Conference. If the eighth-place Islanders are going to continue their strong push into the postseason, the line’s defense-first mantra is going to be an essential piece of the puzzle.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 53 31 16 6 143 118 68
3 NYR 53 30 18 5 150 135 65
4 TBL 52 29 19 4 138 123 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 DET 53 27 18 8 133 131 62
7 PIT 52 27 18 7 138 132 61
8 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
9 NJD 54 26 21 7 120 122 59
10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 OTT 54 25 23 6 153 166 56
13 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
K. Okposo 49 15 26 -7 41
J. Tavares 48 19 21 -4 40
F. Nielsen 51 15 18 0 33
B. Nelson 51 20 11 1 31
M. Grabovski 51 9 15 2 24
J. Bailey 50 9 15 5 24
N. Leddy 51 3 20 -8 23
A. Lee 51 7 15 1 22
R. Strome 40 5 14 -6 19
C. Clutterbuck 50 11 4 6 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 12 11 4 .917 2.28
T. Greiss 14 6 2 .929 2.26
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