Islanders' defensemen playing big minutes

Travis Hamonic passes the puck in the first

Travis Hamonic passes the puck in the first period of a game against the Rangers. (Oct. 29, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Ask an Islanders defenseman who is playing increased minutes of late and he'll say it makes him a better player.

Ask the Islanders' coach and you get a slightly different answer.

With the Islanders short two regular defensemen as they headed to Ottawa on Thursday for a game with the Senators Friday night -- Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Brian Strait (upper body) still were not back on the ice and will miss their fifth and fourth game, respectively -- Jack Capuano still was down to six healthy defensemen.

That means his three best regulars, Andrew MacDonald, Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey, are going to carry the load again in Ottawa, as well as Saturday at home against the Bruins.

Those three are fine with that.

"I honestly think I'm a better defenseman when I'm playing over 25 minutes,'' said Hamonic, who is averaging 25:10 per game through 12 games and is averaging just shy of 27 minutes a game since Visnovsky left late in the first period against the Hurricanes on Oct. 19. "I'm more into the flow, I feel like, and I love the challenge.''

MacDonald, who has taken Visnovsky's spot on the top power-play unit, is up to 26:43 per game, fourth-highest in the league. Those two, having been the top defense pair for more than two seasons now, are accustomed to big minutes.

Hickey is definitely not, but the 24-year-old has tried to assume a more important role in the absence of Visnovsky, his regular partner.

"You have to work a little harder to affect the game in a positive way,'' said Hickey, who had his first two points of the season and is a plus-3 in his last three games. "But I definitely enjoy those minutes and I'm trying to make the best of them.''

Capuano is leery of leaning too heavily on his regulars, but veterans Radek Martinek and Matt Carkner have struggled to shoulder a consistent workload. Rookie Matt Donovan showed some good signs of confidence against the Rangers on Tuesday night after a few glaring mistakes in previous games.

"It's definitely something you have to watch for,'' Capuano said. "You can't just throw guys like Travis and A-Mac out there for 28, 30 minutes a game, night after night.''

For the near term, however, the players will win out and get the big minutes. With the Isles in a 1-3-1 funk since Visnovsky went down, the coach may be on to something.

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