Earning the respect of his new Islanders teammates has not been an issue for Alexander Romanov.
The 22-year-old defenseman, acquired from the Canadiens this summer for the 13th overall pick in the NHL draft, showed off his skating skills and physical edge through training camp and the preseason. And Romanov had already blocked a team-high 14 shots in the first two games entering Tuesday night’s match against the Sharks at UBS Arena.
“Sometimes it’s circumstance but I’m never afraid to block a shot,” Romanov said. “It’s my job, the penalty kill and stuff like that. Playing physical.”
“Whenever you join a new team, you kind of have that feeling,” defenseman Adam Pelech said of players wanting to earn their teammates’ respect quickly. “He’s already earned it, as far as we’re concerned. That’s just his game and the way he plays. He leaves it all out there. He’s willing to sacrifice his body. He works. He’s physical. He’s a great addition to our back end.”
Romanov has been paired with Noah Dobson since the start of training camp and the two not only share the same age but an instinct for joining the rush up ice.
It’s a change for Dobson, who spent the last two seasons partnering with either Andy Greene or Zdeno Chara, two defensive minded veterans who are both now retired.
Dobson said it’s a matter of “just reading off of each other” to ensure they don’t get caught up ice if the opponent breaks out in transition. So communication is key.
“I think it started a few months before the season,” Dobson said. “We were both here in town in mid- to late-August so we’ve been skating and hanging out off the ice since then. You kind of form that relationship.”
Dobson said he’s enjoyed being paired with a player the same age as him.
“It’s nice,” Dobson said. “It was great the first couple of years to play with an older, veteran guy. I had lots of great guys: Johnny [Boychuk], Greener, Z, living with [Dennis] Seidenberg. I’ve had a lot of great mentors.
“But it’s cool to play with a guy your age. We’re at the same stage in our life. We can chat a little bit more about things. It was hard for me to have a conversation with Z sometimes just because I don’t have much in common going on. He’s got kids and all that.”
As for Romanov’s blocked shots, that stat can sometimes be an indication that a defensive pair is spending too much time in its own zone.
But Dobson is one of two defensemen in team history with a goal in each of the first two games of the season. And Romanov logged 5:55 on the penalty kill in a season-opening 3-1 loss to the Panthers, blocking four of his nine shots while playing shorthanded.
Still, Romanov is tied for last among the six Islanders defensemen in Corsi For and is last in Corsi Against and Corsi For Percentage, an indication he is playing without the puck too often.
“If you look at Alex and his shot-blocking ability and his courage to block shots, he’s always going to have a high number regardless of how much time they spend in their zone,” coach Lane Lambert said.
Romanov had four goals and 15 assists in 133 games over his first two NHL seasons with the Canadiens.
He said there aren’t many differences in how the two teams play, but there are some.
“This team is playing more physical,” Romanov said. “Harder. Faster. In my opinion, we’re ready to give a battle to every single team and play in the playoffs.”