Kieffer Bellows, largely, has been unnoticeable this season. The 23-year old’s presence in the Islanders’ lineup is less than steady, and when he does play, Bellows is meant to do a lot of the little things.
On Sunday, though, he was at the center of the action in the Islanders’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Golden Knights.
Late in the second period, Bellows dropped gloves with Max Pacioretty, sticking up for Andy Greene after Pacioretty leveled him. Then late in the third period, it was Bellows who tied the game up at two, scoring from the low slot after Zach Parise recovered a puck at the Vegas blue line.
It was Bellows’ second goal of the season, and his seventh in his NHL career. Certainly, over the 34 games he’s played in three years with the Islanders, Sunday ranks among his most impactful.
“I was just trying to go out there and do anything I can to help this team win,” Bellows said. “Like I’ve said before, if that means trying to score or trying to fight, I’ll do what it takes.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said that Bellows deserved more than the 7:40 time on ice he got, an issue he added was “probably on me.” Indeed, Bellows is making a case for more playing time.
“Kieffer played really well,” Trotz said. “I liked him. You could tell, his feistiness, he got in a fight against Pacioretty, scored a big goal.”
Added Oliver Wahlstrom: “Kieffer is playing great, man.”
Trotz put Bellows’ playing time in terms of “street equity” — a credit he’s currently in the midst of building. That takes time, and more than one game of noticeable impact. The Islanders have a veteran-laden roster, making the rotation tough to crack. In theory, they’re deep, though that notion has been tested in a disappointing start to the season.
Bellows, and to a lesser extent, the likes of Oliver Wahlstrom, Anthony Beauvillier and Noah Dobson, have found themselves on the wrong end of that dynamic this year. Wahlstrom’s minutes were reduced on the season-opening road trip. Dobson and Beauvillier have been healthy scratches this year.
The difference, though, is that those three all factored into the Islanders’ plans this year. Benching them, or reducing their minutes, was a means to the end of getting the most of them.
Bellows, on the other hand, is regularly a healthy scratch. Though at this point, it might be more accurate to say he was regularly a healthy scratch.
“As a veteran player, you get a little bit more rope [than] with a younger guy,” Trotz said. “Kieffer’s making a case to get a little more rope every time he gets in there.”
In Robin Lehner’s first game back on Long Island since the 2018-19 season, the Islanders honored him with a video tribute. An emotional Lehner watched, pointing to the tattoo of Long Island on his neck.
“It’s so much more than hockey to me,” he told reporters after the game. “I can’t explain it. It’s the love I have for the guys here, this team, organization, the fans. What they helped me do with my life.”
When Lehner came to the Islanders, it was after hitting a low in his personal life with depression and addiction. He spoke openly about his struggles with mental health, winning the Masterton Trophy for perseverance.
“The first exhibition game that I played here right after I released my story, I got a standing ovation,” Lehner said. “I’ve never had that before on any team. They’ve shown me love since Day 1. People think I’m making a big deal out of it, yeah I am. It’s my life. I can’t express it.”
Lehner made 31 saves in the game and was perfect in the shootout. Beforehand, he shaved his beard — a show of respect to Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello.
“When you’re in Lou’s building, you respect the boss’s rules,” Lehner said. “That’s how it goes.”
Matt Martin and Robin Salo were placed in COVID-19 protocols prior to the game, though Trotz said they were still waiting for test results to confirm that both were indeed positive for the virus.
Kyle Palmieri was out after suffering a lower-body injury on Thursday against the Bruins. Trotz described him as doubtful for Thursday’s game against the Capitals.
The Islanders’ Monday night game against the Canadiens was postponed after the NHL announced all cross-border games through the holiday break would be called off as a result of COVID-19.
The Islanders honored Greene with a pregame ceremony to commemorate his 1,000th NHL game, a milestone he reached last month.
Cal Clutterbuck played his 900th NHL game, finishing with one shot and three hits in 15:02.