Not every game is going to be a flawless gem. That’s what comes with being a top-pair defenseman matched up constantly against the opponent’s top players.
But, more often than not, the Islanders’ Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock get the job done.
"I think they’re a really good complement," coach Barry Trotz said. "Pelly has got a high IQ for defending and he’s got a good stick and he trusts all those instincts. Ryan has a little bit more of an offensive edge to his game. A little more skill and he’s a powerful man. The combination covers all the elements."
The Islanders conclude a two-game series in Boston on Friday night after losing, 4-1, to the Bruins on Thursday night to open this three-game road trip.
That loss was a dismally passive effort and Pelech and Pulock did not escape the team malaise as they were on ice together for two of the Bruins’ four goals. That included the game-turning sequence after Mathew Barzal was unable to direct in Jordan Eberle’s stick-to-stick feed to the right post for what would have been the tying goal.
Instead, Pulock could not contain the puck at the Bruins’ blue line and Taylor Hall raced the other way to extend the Bruins’ lead to 3-1 at 1:52 of the third period.
Again, hazards of the trade.
Pulock entered Friday’s game with a team-high 22:31 average time on ice as he plays both on the power play and the penalty kill. He had a goal and 14 assists and was a plus-11. Pelech, a key penalty killer, was third on the team at 20:55 and had two goals and eight assists and was a plus-10.
But the statistics only scratch the surface of how much trust they’ve earned in Trotz’s three seasons as the Islanders' coach.
"Their influence has been huge," Pelech said of the coaching staff. "What Barry has done for me and making me realize what I need to do to be successful has been great for me."
Pulock was the 15th overall pick in 2013 and spent nearly three full seasons with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport before earning a full-time role in 2017 under former coach Doug Weight. Pelech was selected in the third round in 2012 and first paired with Pulock at Bridgeport before cracking the Islanders’ lineup for good in 2017.
Trotz tried them as a shut-down pair early in his first season before easing off on that assignment for a bit as their confidence wavered. But, by late in Trotz’s first season, Pelech and Pulock established themselves in that role and their games have only grown since.
"I think I’ve always seen that in them," said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who started at Bridgeport in 2013. "We played a lot of games at Bridgeport together. Spent a lot of time, the three of us, whether it was developing on the ice and then, also, off the ice. We’re all pretty good friends. I think I’ve always seen this in them. That level, you see it out there now. I think we’ve seen out there for a while. I think they’re just getting the respect they deserve, really."
Pelech’s importance became painfully clear when the Islanders nearly stumbled out of a playoff spot last season after he suffered an Achilles’ tendon injury in early January.
Meanwhile, Trotz has said this is Pulock’s best season, "by far."
"There’s a lot of areas that I’ve brought my game to another level," Pulock said. "I want to score but when you’re winning every night and helping in other ways, it doesn’t matter as much."
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