TORONTO -- The Islanders have lacked a true shutdown defense pairing for a few years now -- as long as it's been since the last lockout, at the least. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald formed a solid tandem last season, but this year they are both determined to be the 25-27 minute per night pair that takes on opposing top lines and provides a punch on offense.
It's a lot to ask, but the 22-year-old Hamonic and the 26-year-old MacDonald know what being a true top pair could do for an Islanders defense that's thin at best and described with derogatory language by commentators.
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"I feel like it's time," Hamonic said. "If it was up to me, I'd play 60 minutes a night. But you want that responsibility, to be the guys that go out there and face the other team's best every night. I want to be that guy."
Hamonic scored the Isles' lone goal in a 2-1 opening-night loss to the Devils, a power-play tally that displayed some of his burgeoning offensive skills. MacDonald already has six blocked shots, a statistic in which he has led the Isles each of the last two seasons.
The two have already been sternly tested in the first two games, first matching against Ilya Kovalchuk's line in the opener, then Marty St. Louis and Steve Stamkos in Monday's 4-3 win over the Lightning. MacDonald is averaging 27:07 over those two games, Hamonic 23:04 -- that's a lot to maintain over the shortened season that continues here Thursday night and goes to Boston Friday, Winnipeg on Sunday and Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
But if the Isles are to change the reputation of their defense, Hamonic and MacDonald will have to lead the charge. Aside from the ugly six-minute stretch of the third period on Monday when the high-powered Lightning turned a 4-0 Isles cakewalk into a 4-3 nail-biter, the Isles have been fairly solid from top pair to third pair on defense, utilizing free agent signee Matt Carkner and waiver pickups Brian Strait and Joe Finley to keep things simple and the play at the perimeter in the defensive zone.
"I know what people have said about us," Hamonic said. "We have a system here and as long as we execute it the right way, we can be as good as any defense in this league. We have the guys to do it."