The infectious smile Robin Salo greets people with has remained consistent from Day 1 of training camp. That says something about the affable Finnish defenseman’s personality and outlook despite currently being assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport after being a healthy scratch for 20 straight NHL games with the Islanders.
Being an extra is not something the 24-year-old Salo, a second-round pick in 2017 in his second season in North America, has experienced previously. Right now, it’s just a phase in his development as the Islanders still consider him a big part of their future.
“It’s a new thing for me, for sure,” Salo said earlier this week before being sent down. “It’s just experience. You’ve got to learn to adapt and do the best you can do every day and try to focus on the things you can do.”
Salo played in the Islanders’ first four games — scoring two goals — before coach Lane Lambert switched to Sebastian Aho to round out his six defensemen.
Aho, a 26-year-old Swede who has played just 82 NHL since making his Islanders’ debut in 2017, has become more efficient by cutting down on his turnovers.
“For him, it’s just a matter of understanding he doesn’t have to do too much to stay in the lineup,” Lambert said of Aho. “Keeping the game more simple has helped him.”
Salo has been loaned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on three occasions to get some playing time. He had three assists in three AHL games entering Bridgeport’s match at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday.
“The fact that he’s getting his time in Bridgeport is important,” Lambert said. “I think we’re on the right path with him.”
When with the Islanders, Salo goes through team meetings and practices — often staying on the ice late for extra work — and waits for his turn.
“Every day you learn something new,” Salo said. “It’s just my second year over here, too. So I’ve just got to try to suck everything in. Get all the info. I’m just trying to be patient and learn things from the more experienced guys.
“I watch the games. I try to go through my game and, of course, there are things you need to improve. Just defensive play, positioning myself. It’s not huge things, just those small details which a couple of D like Pelly (Adam Pelech) and (Ryan) Pulock do very well out there when I watch them.”
The 6-2, 190-pound Salo is also focusing on work in the weight room to get stronger after spending the bulk of his career skating on the larger European rinks.
“It’s more physical here,” Salo said. “It’s faster because of the rink. I feel like players around the net are very skilled here. They’re good goal scorers. They can tip the puck. You’ve got to be a little bit stronger and just a little bit more on your toes. I’m trying to position well in the D zone and try to be in the right spot on the right side of the guy.”
Varlamov's new skates
Semyon Varlamov is wearing a newly-designed goalie skate this season that has similarities to a ski boot.
Most noticeably, there are latches to tighten the skate instead of laces.
“Those two clips, it is like a ski boot,” Varlamov said. “What I like about it is your skate is always in the same position. It doesn’t get loose at the end of the game.”
Varlamov explained that laces can be tied tightly at the start of the game but loosen up over three periods.
Another difference with Varlamov’s model is the boot is lower than regular goalie skates and the there is a flexible panel on the back to give the ankle more freedom. Varlamov said that makes it easier from him to go from a standing position into a butterfly stance.
“I heard some goalies, they tried it and they really like it and some goalies they absolutely hate it because the ankle is moving too much,” Varlamov said.
From the pod
Mathew Barzal, one of the elite skaters in the NHL, was the guest on Episode 148 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast to discuss his technique and development.
Barzal was asked how much of what he can do on the ice is innate and how much is how he works at his craft.
“It’s honestly a good question,” Barzal said. “Growing up, I had kids I played with when I was younger and they’d be using power-skating coaches and all this kind of stuff. A year or two years later, they’d be skating the exact same way.
“I really feel like the way you skate is your body makeup and the way your legs are shaped. Different things like that. I’ve always kind of skated pretty similar since I was younger.”
The Islanders have been perfect so far this season when the following players score a goal:
C Brock Nelson – 9-0-0
LW Zach Parise – 7-0-0
RW Oliver Wahlstrom – 5-0-0
RW Josh Bailey – 4-0-0
D Scott Mayfield – 3-0-0
D Sebastian Aho – 2-0-0
D Robin Salo – 1-0-0