One of the bedrocks of the Islanders’ strong defensive structure as they made back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals the past two seasons was the top pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
Coach Barry Trotz hopes that can be the case again as the Islanders try to make a late playoff push, however unlikely that might be as they sit 19 points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. He reunited the two in Saturday’s impressive 2-1 win over the Blues at UBS Arena for the first time on a full-time basis since the season’s third game.
The Islanders did not practice Sunday before continuing a six-game homestand against the NHL-leading Avalanche on Monday night. They played well but lost in Colorado, 5-3, on Tuesday. Pelech was paired with Scott Mayfield in that game and Pulock skated with Sebastian Aho.
"It was just time," Trotz said. "[Pulock] missed a lot of time and his game was a little bit off. You wanted to give him the opportunity. They started to have some shifts. Let’s just put them together. Let that sort of marinate a little bit as a pair. We’ve got lots of games."
Pulock missed 25 games from Nov. 16-Jan. 30 with a lower-body injury that originally was expected to keep him sidelined for four to six weeks.
Trotz initially broke up the Pelech-Pulock pairing to buttress other struggling defensemen early in the season. He placed Pulock with Zdeno Chara and Pelech quickly found chemistry with Mayfield.
But Trotz has been anticipating reuniting the two since Pulock returned.
"It was good," Pulock said. "It’s been a while. It’s good to be reconnected with him. We’ve got a lot of confidence together. We know each other’s games well. It’s nice to be out there with him again."
Trotz kept Andy Greene with Noah Dobson on Saturday and paired Aho with Mayfield. Aho left for the dressing room at 10:20 of the third period but returned to play one shift.
Chara was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 26 and Parker Wotherspoon was recalled from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.
"We have three pairs that do a good job defensively," Pulock said. "When you can balance it like that, I think we have some good balance with offensive and defensive guys. It’s important for our team for us to be good to be back there and get the pucks to our forwards and let them go to work."
Pelech and Dobson had primary assists against the Blues and Pulock had a secondary assist. He also had an apparent primary assist waved off after Kyle Palmieri was ruled to have deflected his blue-line shot with a high stick.
It continued the recent increased production out of the Islanders’ defensemen. During a 2-2-1 western road trip and the first two games of this homestand, the blueliners have totaled five goals and 17 assists. Dobson has two goals and four assists in the seven games.
Notes & quotes: The Islanders claimed Austin Czarnik off waivers from the Kraken and assigned him to Bridgeport. The Kraken claimed Czarnik off waivers from the Islanders on Feb. 8. The 29-year-old center has two goals and three assists in 15 games for the Islanders over two seasons.