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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 49 36 9 4 161 110 76
2 FLA 51 31 15 5 141 112 67
3 NYR 51 28 18 5 146 132 61
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 131 115 62
5 BOS 51 27 18 6 149 136 60
6 NYI 49 26 17 6 134 121 58
7 DET 51 25 18 8 125 130 58
8 NJD 52 26 20 6 117 118 58
9 PIT 50 25 18 7 126 122 57
10 PHI 49 23 18 8 117 128 54
11 CAR 52 23 21 8 124 138 54
12 MTL 52 24 24 4 137 141 52
13 OTT 52 23 23 6 142 164 52
14 TOR 50 19 22 9 116 134 47
15 BUF 52 21 26 5 119 137 47
16 CBJ 53 20 28 5 133 167 45

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 46 17 19 -4 36
K. Okposo 47 12 24 -9 36
B. Nelson 49 20 11 1 31
F. Nielsen 49 15 16 -2 31
M. Grabovski 49 9 15 2 24
J. Bailey 48 8 15 5 23
A. Lee 49 7 14 1 21
N. Leddy 49 3 16 -12 19
R. Strome 38 5 13 -6 18
N. Kulemin 49 5 9 6 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
J. Halak 12 10 4 .921 2.18
T. Greiss 13 6 2 .927 2.32
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