More than a few things will be different for the Islanders in their home opener on Saturday night against the Predators since the last time they played at Barclays Center.
That includes new management, new coach, new on-ice systems and some new players. Plus, two veteran defensemen in Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk learning to play with new partners.
The Islanders’ former top pair, who both arrived via separate trades on Oct. 14, 2014 and have been a fairly consistent partners since then, played just one five-on-five shift together in the Islanders’ season-opening, 2-1 win at Carolina on Thursday night. Instead, the left-shooting Leddy played on his off-side paired with Thomas Hickey and logged 22:15 while the right-handed Boychuk saw 18:10 of ice time mostly with Luca Sbisa.
The Islanders did not practice on Friday but coach Barry Trotz is expected to keep together the pairs he began solidifying the final week of training camp.
“The comedy, for sure,” Leddy said when asked what he would miss about being paired with the talkative Boychuk. “He keeps it light. It’ll be an adjustment, especially being on the right side.”
“We’ve played for a while together but we’ve also played with a couple of other guys as well,” Boychuk added. “You build chemistry with the other guys as well. It’s going to be different but not really. You’re practicing and playing with different partners throughout camp. A lot of communication will help.”
Trotz initially tried the left-shooting Sbisa on his opposite side.
That experiment ended quickly and Leddy was the next man up.
“I think it’ll be a little bit of a learning curve,” Leddy said. “I was happy with a couple of games on the right side at the end of preseason. I think the biggest thing is just communicating with your defense partner and sticking with the details. In the offensive zone, it’s easier to bring the puck to the middle.”
The Islanders allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season and Leddy, in particular, had a rocky defensive season as his minus-42 was the worst in the league.
The Islanders certainly got some work on their defensive structure in their season opener as they were outshot 46-20 by the Hurricanes. But in addition to Thomas Greiss’ 45 saves, the Islanders also blocked 22 shots, with Boychuk having a team-high four.
“There’s still a lot of new information,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck. “That leads to hesitation. But that will start to leave our game.”
The Islanders play just three home games in October and are also at Nashville next Saturday. The Predators, one of the Western Conference favorites, opened with a 3-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.