PITTSBURGH — The news on Johnny Boychuk’s left shoulder is bad, and the Islanders’ very steady defense will be without one of its top four players indefinitely.
“It’s going to be a little while here,” coach Jack Capuano told Newsday on Friday when the Islanders placed Boychuk on injured reserve a day after he crashed hard into the end boards with 4:33 left in the Isles’ 2-1 win over the Sabres in Buffalo.
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Boychuk crumpled after losing his balance while trying to check Sabres rookie Jack Eichel, but he got up and skated off under his own power. Capuano initially was encouraged by that and the fact that it was not a head injury, but the immediate move to place Boychuk on IR and recall Adam Pelech from Bridgeport on Friday indicated that this could be a long-term situation.
Boychuk leads Isles defensemen with 14 points and had an assist on Nikolay Kulemin’s game-winner Thursday night.
“Definitely a huge loss for the team,” Capuano said. “Johnny plays a lot of minutes, he’s a leader, he’s got that big shot and he’s been getting more involved in the offense the last couple weeks. We’re going to have to step up and do the job.”
That job will fall heavily on Travis Hamonic, who already leads the Isles in minutes played. Brian Strait, who has been in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch, likely will play the right side as well as fill Boychuk’s penalty- killer role. Pelech, the 21-year-old rookie who acquitted himself well in a brief stint up from the AHL in November, also will get a look, though he usually plays the left side.
“Pelly did a really good job when he was here before,” Capuano said. “I talked to Brent [Thompson, the Bridgeport coach] and he gave Pelly the nod. But if this is a long-term thing with Johnny, there’s a couple other guys who could get a look.”
Boychuk traveled with the Islanders from Buffalo for Saturday night’s game against the Penguins, the Isles’ first against Pittsburgh this season. He will be examined further by the team doctor when the Islanders return home Sunday before facing the Stars at Barclays Center.
Boychuk will miss at least these two games because of the IR designation, but it seemingly will be longer than that. And the Islanders, who have allowed the sixth-fewest goals (87) this season, will have to start juggling their defensemen.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an experiment going forward here,” Capuano said. “We don’t want to overanalyze it too much, but we all need to be better.”