The plan for Saturday night’s preseason finale against the Rangers is to dress the defensemen most likely to be in the lineup for the regular-season opener. Playing in Bridgeport, Connecticut will be very familiar to most of them.
“It’s cool to see that home-grown attitude,” said Scott Mayfield, who, along with Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews all spent multiple AHL seasons playing for the Sound Tigers. “We’ve all gotten pretty close to each other. It worked out last year and it won’t be a surprise if it works this year. But we need to keep that up.”
The Islanders surrendered the fewest goals in the NHL last season after giving up the most the previous season. Mayfield and Pelech’s noticeable improvement, Pulock’s development into a top-pair defenseman and Toews’ mid-season addition to the lineup were all key factors.
Based on Friday’s practice at East Meadow, the Toews-Mayfield and Pelech-Pulock pairs will carry over from last season while Nick Leddy will play with prized prospect Noah Dobson, the 12th overall pick in 2018 who is very likely will remain with the Islanders to start the season rather than be returned to his junior hockey team.
“One area I’d like to get is our D all set for at least one game,” coach Barry Trotz said.
The 6-5, 220-pound Mayfield firmed his defensive game last season while improving his positioning and learning to use his big frame more effectively. He also contributed four goals and 15 assists in 79 games after injuries limited him to 47 games in 2017-18, his first “full” NHL season.
“I think the biggest thing was just playing the full season,” said Mayfield, who played 223 games for Bridgeport from 2013-17 as he shuttled between the AHL and NHL. “The first couple of seasons I was in and out of the lineup. I had the broken ankle one year, some unlucky stuff.”
Pulock played 163 games for the Sound Tigers from 2014-17, Toews played 130 from 2016-2018 and Pelech was in 105 from 2014-17.
Mayfield said his confidence grew in Trotz’s first season with the Islanders because he knew he was going to be in the lineup if healthy.
He also said he didn’t lose confidence despite the team’s defensive struggles the previous season.
“Two seasons ago we took a lot of heat, the back end did,” Mayfield said. “None of us were happy with it. At the same time, we all realized that wasn’t us. I think none of us doubted our talent.”
Notes & Quotes: Center Derick Brassard (illness) did not practice…Goalies Christopher Gibson and Jared Coreau, defensemen Kyle Burroughs and Seth Helgeson and forwards Cole Bardreau, Travis St. Denis and Matt Lorito cleared waivers and were assigned to Bridgeport.