Josh Bailey returned to the Islander lineup on Wednesday after a lengthy stint in the minors and the result was strong play from Bailey and a pair of victories for the Isles.
Although he did not register a point, Bailey played a strong game Wednesday in the club’s 2-1 win over Tampa Bay, creating scoring chances and skating with strength and determination.
Thursday against the Devils, the 21-year-old native of Bowmanville, Ontario, scored twice and added an assist as the Isles won their second game in a row 5-1 and extended their point streak to four games (3-0-1). The victory over the Devils also propelled the Isles out of last place in the Atlantic Division standings, a welcome and well earned Christmas gift for the team and their fans after a frustrating few months of losing hockey.
It is not surprise that Bailey was in the thick of the Isles recent turnaround. He was a key to the team’s fast start this season, scoring three goals and adding three assists as the Islanders came out of the gate with a 4-1-2 record.
But the former first round pick suffered a hip pointer in Toronto on October 18 which caused him to miss a week of playing time. When he returned, Bailey had trouble finding his game and he went 13 straight contests without registering a point. At times, he looked lost on the ice and it was tough to notice what impact he had on the game.
While Bailey was struggling personally, the Islanders were losing hockey games, changing coaches and falling to the bottom of the NHL standings.
Isles GM Garth Snow felt a need to shake up his team and to protect his long term investment in Bailey, who he selected ninth overall in the 2008 Entry Draft. He surprised many by sending Bailey to Bridgeport of the AHL. Snow was confident that Bailey remained in the team’s long term plans, explaining that he sent his young star to the minors “with a mindset of getting his confidence back [and] to get him to be the player that he was in junior hockey when we picked him ninth overall.”
Bailey went down to Bridgeport with the right attitude. In 11 games with the Sound Tigers, he scored six goals and accumulated 17 points.
“I tried to make the most of it,” Bailey said Wednesday when asked about his time in Bridgeport. “I tried to get my confidence back and have poise and patience with the puck and try to get that vision back and make plays. I’ve always been a passer first so I tried to get that back in my game.”
Isles Coach Jack Capuano has been pleased with how the young player handled his demotion and the way Bailey has been playing since his return.
“Obviously you’re working on your confidence when you’re down there, you’re decision making,” Capuano said. “You’re working on all three zones with or without the puck. We wanted him to drive his legs, be in constant motion, make creative plays when it’s there, when it’s not there and he doesn’t have the time and space, make the right play with the puck and right now he’s skating well and playing well.”
Veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson has also been impressed with Bailey’s recent play and attitude. “Josh has always been a confident kid. He’s always working hard, he’s always doing the right thing and he’s always had a great shot, but he wants to learn, he wants to get better,” Roloson explained. “For him to go down and play the way he did in the minors and then come back and play with all the confidence he has, it’s just great.”
After his first two games back, Bailey was pleased with how things were going for both himself and the Islanders.
“I needed those [goals] to try to get the ball rolling again and I think we did a good job finding ways to score,” he said. “It’s good to get two wins and it’s obviously nice to help contribute and be back with my team.”
If the Islanders are going to make progress the rest of this season and beyond, Josh Bailey will likely play a big role in their future success. For now, his strong return has given the team a must needed boost and a reason to be merry this Christmas.