Johnny Boychuk never wasted a minute by getting frustrated. When he was out for five weeks with a shoulder injury, he put his time to good use: off-ice conditioning, skating as much as he could and just plain observing. “Sometimes it’s good to watch games,” the Islanders defenseman said Sunday. “You can learn by watching.”
Such as subtleties on breakout plays. “You’ve got more time than you think,” he said.
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Anyway, in the past eight days, he has put his time to even better use, returning to the lineup and being reunited with Nick Leddy — a blue-line partnership that helped the whole organization learn a lot last season.
Notwithstanding the dreary 6-3 road loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday night, when most of the Islanders lacked focus and energy, the pairing’s play has been worth watching. Boychuk, for instance, got the Islanders rolling in two blowout wins last week with early slap-shot goals.
Against the Red Wings at Barc lays Center on Monday afternoon, both accomplished defensemen will try to get the Islanders back on their feet after Saturday. “You’re going to have more than one game like that in a season,” Boychuk said after a spirited practice at IceWorks. “You just have to put it behind you and focus on the next team coming in, which is a good team. If you dwell on the past, the past will turn into tomorrow. You can’t do that.
“We just have to play our game. When we play simple, we’re a dominant team,” he said. “When we try to do too much, that’s when we basically kick ourselves in the behind.”
It is no secret that, as Boychuk said of his defense duo, “the way we both play, we complement each other.” Last season, the two Cup winners were both effective and emblematic — their acquisitions on the same day signaled that the Islanders no longer were awaiting some vague tomorrow but were committed to winning now. Both eventually signed long-term deals.
“Chemistry usually takes a while,” Leddy said, “but playing with him, we kind of had it right off the bat. I think we’re still learning, but I think that’s good because I think we can be even better.”
In coach Jack Capuano’s view, during this season, “It didn’t work early on and we just had to split them up.” But while Boychuk was out, the pairing of Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic flourished. Capuano wanted to keep that twosome intact, meaning Boychuk and Leddy were teamed up again.
“Johnny’s just hard-nosed, get-the-job-done, and obviously he has a good shot. He’s got a great presence about him,” John Tavares said. “And Leds can skate his way through anything. He can create open ice that way and he’s been getting some really good looks lately. He’s been finding the net. They’ve been big for us.”
Speaking of reunions, Capuano blamed himself for not putting Tavares back with old linemates Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey earlier on Saturday. When he did, they scored. The coach did not rule out more forward shuffling at the outset on Monday.