Devon Toews’ salary cap-necessitated trade to the Avalanche in the offseason meant the Islanders needed their remaining defensemen to compensate for that departed offense.
Nick Leddy certainly has risen to the challenge.
Leddy had 12 points (one goal, 11 assists), best among the team’s defensemen, through the Islanders’ first 19 games entering Saturday night’s match against the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum. That projects to a very impressive 35.4 points over the course of this 56-game season.
It would be more impressive than Leddy’s best NHL season, when he had 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists) in 81 games for the Islanders in 2016-17.
"He’s moving, he’s skating so well," said Ryan Pulock, who led the Islanders’ defensemen in scoring in last season’s truncated 68-game slate with 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists). "He’s just able to break pucks out by himself by just skating past guys. I think he’s been playing really good hockey, even if you go back to the playoffs."
Leddy had three goals and four assists in 22 postseason games as the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1993. Toews and Pulock led the defensemen in postseason scoring with two goals and eight assists apiece.
"We need that with the movement of Devon," coach Barry Trotz said. "We asked Nick to jump in there and do that. The biggest thing with Nick is his skating. He’s known more as a transporter than a playmaker, but his confidence is growing. This game is too hard to score just with your forwards. You need your defense involved at the right time. I like what Nick has done so far this year."
The timing could be good for Leddy, whose seven-year, $38.5 million deal runs through next season. He will be 31 by the time he becomes an unrestricted free agent, but if his numbers hold, he’ll likely be able to sign one more lucrative deal.
This week marked the first anniversary of Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s acquisition from his hometown Ottawa Senators. Obviously, it’s been a year unlike any other because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pageau played in only 25 regular-season games in the calendar year and 22 postseason games conducted in August and September in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
"Looking back, I’m super-excited with the result," said Pageau, acquired for first- and second-round picks on Feb. 24, 2020, and promptly signed to a six-year, $30 million extension. "I feel like it’s been going pretty fast. Just coming and going to the playoffs and going back to Ottawa and spending a shorter summer and coming back to training camp. It’s just been rock ’n’ roll, but I’m excited and I can’t wait to get more years here."
This week marked the 41st anniversary of Team USA’s Miracle on Ice gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Americans beat the heavily favored Soviet Union, 4-3, on Feb. 22 and Finland, 4-2, two days later for the gold.
Twelve of the 20 players on the roster were from Minnesota, as was coach Herb Brooks, manager Ralph Jasinski, goalie coach Warren Strelow and the three members of the medical staff.
"Growing up in Minnesota, with all the Minnesota representatives on that team, that was a story that was always told," said Islanders captain Anders Lee of Edina, Minnesota, who was born in 1990. "Before the movie came out ["Miracle,’’ starring Kurt Russell, in 2004], there was documentaries on it. It’s always been a huge story for anyone who plays hockey. As an American-born player, it’s awesome to take pride in what they accomplished."
Maybe next time
Former Bruin Austin Czarnik was not elevated from the Islanders’ taxi squad for Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Bruins — Leo Komarov was instead — despite playing a solid 9:11 in Monday’s 3-2 win over the Sabres. It would have been Czarnik’s third game with the Islanders. And it would have been his third game against the organization that signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio) in 2015.
He played 59 games for the Bruins from 2016-18 before playing 62 games for the Flames the next two seasons. The Islanders don’t play the Flames in this shortened 56-game regular season.
"It’s always special playing against your old team," Czarnik said before learning he was not in the lineup. "You always want to do well against them and be your best."
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