The Islanders certainly don’t mind the “defense-first” reputation they’ve earned in their season-plus under coach Barry Trotz, especially since the team previously was known more for its lax defending.
But it’s just as key to score goals as it is to prevent them, and the Islanders defensemen have contributed consistently in that regard through the current seven-game winning streak, the franchise’s longest single-season run since 1990. Bigger picture, at least one blue-liner has had a point in all 11 games this season.
“If you look at our pairings, for the most part, there’s one guy who should stay at home and one guy that probably should go a little more than the other,” Trotz said. “Sometimes, we get that mixed up. But the pairs are set up that way so there’s a little bit of predictability as to which guy is jumping up.”
The Islanders, who did not practice on Tuesday, improved to 8-3-0 with a 5-3 win over the Flyers on Sunday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. They play next against the Lightning on Friday night at the Coliseum.
Trotz prefers matching a left-handed shot with a right-hander and has kept his pairs essentially constant so far this season: Nick Leddy with Johnny Boychuk, Adam Pelech with Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews with Scott Mayfield. Rookie Noah Dobson has played three games, including one in which the Islanders dressed seven defensemen.
“I have no question on this player on what he will be,” president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said of Dobson, who as a 19-year-old still eligible for Canadian junior hockey cannot be re-assigned to the AHL. “Right now, we have six defensemen that all have a role and an importance to the team. I would love to have him playing in the American Hockey League today, but that’s impossible. Going back to junior is still not something that’s even being considered.”
So, the 12th overall pick in 2018 will have to wait patiently for his chance to play next. None of the top six are coming out of the lineup right now based on their performance.
A defenseman has scored at least one goal in each of the last three victories – Mayfield’s rink-long empty-netter in Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the visiting Coyotes, two from Leddy, including a penalty shot, in a 4-2 win at Ottawa on Friday night and Pulock’s right-point blast against the Flyers.
The Islanders got at least two points from their defensemen in all three of those wins, making it eight multi-point games this season for the defense corps.
Toews is fourth on the team in scoring with two goals and six assists, Boychuk is seventh with a goal and five assists and Leddy is eighth with two goals and three assists.
“When you’re playing in a system, you get more and more comfortable in it and you start to notice things,” Leddy said. “There’s a million different things that can happen in the D zone, or in the game. It’s more just read and reacting and trying at that time to make the best play.”