Barry Trotz has, from time to time, been momentarily exasperated with some of the plays defenseman Johnny Boychuk will make in the earlier stages of a game. But the Islanders’ coach finds it a fair trade-off because of how much he trusts him with a game on the line.
“Sometimes Johnny will do some things with the puck and I roll my eyes. ‘C’mon, Johnny, you’re better than that,’ ” Trotz said. “But when the game is on the line, you can’t find any one better at being all in, blocking shots, battling, fighting through things. He’s exceptional that way.”
The Islanders are nearing the midway point in their season, and if a midseason MVP for the team needed to be picked, Boychuk, 34, certainly would be a candidate along with goalie Thomas Greiss and, among others, captain Anders Lee and No. 1 center Brock Nelson.
Fully healthy after being hindered by an upper-body issue last season and requiring offseason surgery, Boychuk is having a throwback season. He has reclaimed his spot on the top pair with Nick Leddy, often, as Trotz noted, covering for some of his offensive-minded partner’s mistakes.
Trotz also is using Boychuk and his ability to get a hard shot through on the second power-play unit.
“Sometimes he’s not the smoothest guy out there,” Trotz said of Boychuk, not known as a fleet skater.
But Boychuk has other intangibles, most notably his talkative nature. He developed it as he was breaking into the NHL with the Avalanche and establishing himself with the Bruins.
“When I broke into the league, I didn’t really get to play but I still wanted to bring an energy to the locker room,” said Boychuk, in the fourth season of a seven-year, $42-million deal. “I would go over video — I was never on the ice in the video, but I would be learning from the video or watching the games and then I’d be talking to the guys about certain plays that I’d see. I was trying to get a reading of what they thought was going on during that play and what the different scenarios were after that.
“I try to talk on the bench, try to talk a lot,” added Boychuk, who has a goal and five assists while playing in all of the Islanders’ first 34 games. “You learn a lot from talking with each other and you play better and you feel more comfortable.”
The way Trotz sees it, Boychuk’s total package is worth a few rolls of the eyes.
Right wing Josh Ho-Sang, 22, was lingering at his locker stall at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena after Thursday’s morning skate when linemate Leo Komarov, 31, who has switched to left wing to accommodate the offensively-gifted former first-round pick, sat down at his neighboring stall.
For several minutes, the two engaged in a quiet conversation not for outside ears. Komarov helping Ho-Sang in his efforts to become a better, more mature, defensively-responsible pro has been a theme since Ho-Sang was recalled from Bridgeport on Dec. 9, eventually landing on Valtteri Filppula’s third line.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” Ho-Sang said. “They’re really good guiding me throughout the game. The things I’m doing right and the things that I can do better. Leo has been great in terms of helping me out in the defensive zone, telling me before each shift, ‘You’ve got to get the puck out and you’ve got to make good plays.’ He’s always there to correct me when I’m a little bit out of position, and that goes a long way.”
It didn’t come to this because Nelson was able to play in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win at Arizona after taking defenseman Ian Cole’s knee just above his own knee and missing the third period of Monday night’s 4-1 win at Colorado. But here was Trotz’s contingency plan: Move Josh Bailey from Mathew Barzal’s right wing to Nelson’s spot between Lee and Jordan Eberle, elevate Komarov to Barzal’s line and insert Tom Kuhnhackl back on the third line.
The Islanders have had 33 different referees and 30 different linesmen assigned to their first 34 games. Here’s are some notable records among the on-ice officials they’ve seen the most so far this season:
Dean Morton 4-0-0
Jacob Brenk 3-0-0
Brad Watson 2-0-1
Jean Hebert 1-2-1
Ghislain Hebert 0-1-1
Libor Suchanek 3-0-0
Brad Kovachik 3-1-0
Tony Sericolo 2-1-1
Kiel Murchison 1-2-1
Travis Gawryletz 1-3-0
Darren Gibbs 0-1-2