Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

SUNRISE, Fla. - The education of Ryan Strome is ongoing. And there was plenty for the 21-year-old to digest this week.

There was lots of good: His setup for Josh Bailey to open the scoring in Dallas, yet another assist for Strome from below the opposing goal line, where he's become the most dangerous distributor in the Islanders offense. His 20 primary assists lead the team, one ahead of John Tavares, and Strome has done that while almost exclusively playing with centers that don't wear No. 91.

By all rights, Strome should have had a second assist on Tuesday, since it was his speed burst with control across the Stars blue line that led to Anders Lee's heave on net that caromed in with 1.4 seconds to play to give the Isles a point.

There were some darker moments. Strome's offensive-zone penalty, horribly embellished or not, with three minutes to go in Dallas on Tuesday in a game the Islanders trailed; his decision to hold the puck at the Dallas blue line under pressure, leading to a giveaway and the Stars OT winner; and then his failure to find his man, Nashville's Craig Smith, on a Predators rush that allowed Smith to tie the game in the third on Thursday.

"It's all part of it," Jack Capuano said. "You almost want these things to happen a little bit, because he'll learn from them. You have to remember, he almost didn't make the team in training camp."

It may seem as though Capuano is singling out Strome, who has had as good a second season as any Islander in two decades. No one in the organization is trying to stifle Strome's obvious skills; it's more sharpening them, especially as Strome's first NHL postseason looms.

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"You're obviously always looking to improve," Strome said. "On that play in OT, I should have made a better play. I had a chance to drop it to Johnny but I didn't want to put him in the soup."

Capuano and the coaches want Strome to shoot more, even though he ranks sixth on the team with 2.3 shots per game. "I've always seen myself as a pass-first guy," Strome said. "I think I shoot enough . . . It's just about trying to make the right play."

He's made quite a few of those this season, even though there have been a few recently that haven't gone as well.

Tavares and his snapping twigs

There was a stretch of games recently where it seemed John Tavares broke a stick on about every fourth faceoff. No one sabotaged Tavares' sticks and he's not inclined to change the flex on his shaft, given he entered last night's game with 31 goals, tied for his career high.

"I think maybe it's just that time of year, there's a lot more intensity and the refs let a little more go in terms of stick work," Tavares said. "I try to bring as much force as I can to every faceoff. They're obviously an important part of the game."

His attitude is working. Tavares has won 52.6 percent of his faceoffs, a personal best; he's taken 1,136 of them and that percentage ranks ninth among the 27 players with at least 1,000 draws.

No deadline for Boychuk

Johnny Boychuk's lack of a contract extension didn't cause him any consternation when Monday's trade deadline rolled around and he's still very matter-of-fact about the fact he's now less than four months from unrestricted free agency.

"If it happens, I guess it'll happen," he said, adding that he hasn't instructed his agents to hold off negotiations until after the season. "It's certainly not a distraction. If anything, it makes you play harder because you're fighting for a job."

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The Islanders had no known discussions with teams about trading Boychuk before Monday.