One of the challenges that Doug Weight put forth in his first days as Islanders head coach went to Nick Leddy.
Leddy had been getting No. 1 defenseman deployment under Jack Capuano this season, but his output had been disappointing.
His points per game were down from his pace during his first two Islanders seasons. Worse, the shots for/against rate while on the ice was below 45 percent, among the worst in the league for defensemen who play as much as Leddy does. His top- pair work with Travis Hamonic was a bit of a bust, much like the team’s overall play.
Weight, according to Sports net’s Elliotte Friedman, spoke privately with Leddy and said he needs to be “our second-best player every night.” Leddy already was on an upswing when Capuano was fired, and it has continued under Weight.
“As a team, we changed a few things. We’re having the puck a little more,” Leddy said. “We’re moving our feet a lot more in the offensive zone, using the D more, having a five-man attack, and it’s providing a lot of offense for us.”
Leddy enters Saturday afternoon’s game against the Senators in Ottawa with three goals and nine assists in the last 14 games and an on-ice shots for/against rate of nearly 56 percent. Hamonic has been sidelined with a knee injury during that entire run and Leddy has gone from Adam Pelech to Johnny Boychuk as his defense partner, with no hiccups.
“We got very comfortable together. We play good together,” Leddy said of Boychuk, his partner for all of 2014-15 and the majority of last season. “But everyone on the team is good to play with. Everyone makes it easy.”
Weight’s challenge to Leddy represents how the Islanders view the 25-year-old. He signed a seven-year deal worth an average of $5.5 million per year before last season and is the cornerstone defenseman of a deep corps.
Leddy couldn’t really say why he wasn’t at his best in the first half of the season. “Jack always wanted me to be up in the play, to be that fourth or fifth wave on the rush,” he said. “At this point in the season, we’re trying to make a push. We’re all finding each other, creating a lot of opportunities for ourselves.”