January was certainly a momentous month for rookie Noah Dobson.
A season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury to top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech on Jan. 2 thrust Dobson into the Islanders’ lineup on a regular basis. The 12th overall pick in 2018 — ineligible to be assigned to the AHL with Canadian junior hockey eligibility remaining — had seen just spot duty over the first half of the season.
And Dobson turned 20 on Jan. 7, no longer a teenager.
“It sounds a little better to say,” Dobson said before the Islanders entered their extended All-Star break/bye week in-season vacation that will last until Feb. 1. “Maybe it feels different because, at 19, I wasn’t playing as much. Other than that, it feels pretty much the same. I’m just trying to enjoy it. I mean, 19, 20 years old and in the NHL, I’m grateful to have that opportunity.”
Dobson may still be re-assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport when he’s eligible next season in order to further his hockey development. The Islanders could still look to acquire a veteran defenseman for the playoff push. Would president and general Lou Lamoriello be interested in Devils captain Andy Greene, an undrafted free agent out of Miami, Ohio in 2006, who was signed by Lamoriello when he ran that organization?
For now, at least, Dobson has a spot on the third pair alongside veteran Johnny Boychuk. Dobson has a goal and four assists in 22 games, playing in a career-high 11 straight after Pelech’s freak injury in off-ice warmups prior to a 2-1 loss to the Devils at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
His ice time, though, is still not consistent. He logged a career-high 20:24 in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 13 but was down to 8:37 in a 4-2 win over the Rangers at the Garden on Tuesday night.
“If you look at where I was in October or November to the way I feel now out there, I definitely feel I’ve grown a bit,” Dobson said. “But there’s still more growing to do.”
For all his on-ice poise and confidence, Dobson will still occasionally skate himself into trouble in the defensive zone or fail to clear the puck. An offensive-minded defenseman in juniors, Dobson has grown more comfortable joining the rush with the Islanders but has also been caught up ice at times.
In some ways, Dobson’s situation is similar to how defenseman Devon Toews joined the lineup last season. The slick-skating Toews finally earned a full-time role in the Islanders’ lineup when veteran Thomas Hickey suffered a concussion at Colorado on Dec. 17, 2018. The difference is Toews was 24 at the time.
“Noah can add that element of offense to your back end,” coach Barry Trotz said. “There are some similar traits to their games. But there’s a difference in terms of human maturity.”
The video system
A huge turning point in the Islanders’ much-needed 4-2 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden came when coach Barry Trotz successfully challenged that Jesper Fast was offside on Ryan Strome’s apparent goal at 17:58 of the second period. That would have cut the lead to 3-1. Instead, the Islanders went on to take a four-goal lead early in the third period that withstood the Rangers’ late rally.
“Oh my god, it’s a huge break for us,” Anthony Beauvillier said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to the video guys. You don’t have a lot of time. It’s really tight and they did a really good job., They’ve got some good eyes.”
The Islanders are now 4-for-4 this season on offside challenges and Trotz never fails to credit video coordinator Matt De Mado and his assistant, Corey Smith. They review the plays quickly and then signal to assistant coach John Gruden, who wears a headset on the bench, whether a play should be challenged. Before issuing a challenge, Trotz can also review plays on the bench via a tablet.
It’s important to get it right since the first unsuccessful challenge in a game results in a two-minute minor penalty. Subsequent unsuccessful challenges result in a four-minute penalty.
Trotz also successfully challenged offside calls in a 5-4 overtime win at Pittsburgh on Nov. 19, a 5-1 win at Tampa Bay on Dec. 9 and a 1-0 win over the visiting Avalanche on Jan. 6. Trotz was unsuccessful on a goalie interference challenge in a 6-5 shootout loss to the visiting Ducks on Dec. 21.
“The video coaches do a great job,” Josh Bailey said. “Our coaches are on top of it, too.”
Picked from the pod
Islanders’ leading scorer Mathew Barzal was in St. Louis this weekend for his second straight All-Star Game appearance. Before departing, the third-year, top-line center was the guest on Episode 18 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders’ podcast.
Barzal, an impending restricted free agent without arbitration rights, discussed his contract situation and the Islanders’ lackluster offensive output thus far this season in addition to his All-Star selection. The elite playmaker also discussed his natural skating ability.
“I think skating in general is more how your body is built,” Barzal said. “You can do all the power skating you want but I think, at the end of the day, you skate how you skate. I’ve seen kids work with power-skating coaches for six, seven years and their stride looks the exact same. It’s really just about how your body is built, if you’re 6-3 or 5-11. But I was always on the ice so maybe my turning and whatnot, the agility, that had something to do with it. As a kid, I was on the ice for hours and hours and hours. I love being out there.”
January represented the first losing record — overtime or shootout losses excluded in the calculation of .500 — the Islanders have had in a regular-season month since Barry Trotz became coach. Here’s the month-by-month breakdown:
January 2020 – 4-5-2
December 2019 – 8-5-1
November 2019 – 9-2-2
October 2019 – 8-3-0
April 2019 – 2-1-0
March 2019 – 9-7-0
February 2019 – 8-4-2
January 2019 – 8-2-1
December 2018 – 9-4-1
November 2018 – 6-5-2
October 2018 – 6-4-1