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The Quick Strike

The line of Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey has put goals on the board with their lethal counterattacking style

Wednesday, 10.9.2013 / 3:49 PM ET / News
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The Quick Strike

Michael Grabner
Right Wing  - NYI
Goals: 2 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 6
Shots: 6 | +/-: 4
Frans Nielsen
Center  - NYI
Goals: 1 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 5
Shots: 7 | +/-: 3
Josh Bailey
Left Wing  - NYI
Goals: 1 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 4
Shots: 2 | +/-: 3
They may be responsible for keeping their opponents’ top lines off the score board, but through three games, the Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey line has done a lot more than that.

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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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 PLAYOFFS
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Tavares 11 6 5 -3 11
K. Okposo 11 2 6 -3 8
F. Nielsen 11 3 3 -3 6
B. Nelson 11 1 4 -5 5
T. Hickey 11 1 4 -5 5
A. Quine 10 1 4 -1 5
S. Prince 11 3 1 -1 4
R. Strome 8 1 3 1 4
N. Leddy 11 1 3 1 4
N. Kulemin 11 1 3 -5 4
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
T. Greiss 5 6 2 .923 2.46
J. Berube 0 0 0 1.000 0.00
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