Things started so well with the Islanders for Johnny Boychuk. A three-point night in his and the team's season debut, six points in the first three games, the righthanded, physical anchor of a previously weak defense . . . All good things.
The Islanders are still humming along, but Boychuk has had some bumps along the way. Enough bumps accumulated from a variety of hits, both given and received, for Boychuk to have missed 10 of the first 31 games, with a nine-game absence ending Friday in Detroit.
"It was basically a combination of a bunch of things," Boychuk said. "It all just came together in the wrong way. Hopefully, I can just stay healthy."
There was a knee-on-knee hit by the Kings' Kyle Clifford on Nov. 6 in Los Angeles that cost Boychuk the following game in Arizona. He missed much of the first two periods against the Lightning on Nov. 18 with what appeared to be another leg injury, though he returned for that game and played the next four.
But his last game was Nov. 26 against the Caps, when he played a very healthy 25:47 and provided the screen on John Tavares' overtime winner. After that, his various ailments -- he was officially listed as out with an upper-body injury -- were too much.
And it wasn't a result of overuse. He's averaged 22:04 per game this season, up less than a minute from his final season with the Bruins.
"Bad luck," he said when asked for a reason. "You can take hits and not get hurt, you can give them and not get hurt. Sometimes you do."
The Islanders were 6-4 without Boychuk, though it's harder to assess since Travis Hamonic missed six games during the same stretch and Lubomir Visnovsky missed four while Boychuk was out.
The Islanders did some good things defensively while Boychuk was out, but you could see the difference he makes in the closing minute of Friday's win in Detroit. With six skaters on for the Wings, Hamonic jumped on as Nick Leddy, Boychuk's partner, jumped off.
Boychuk decided to stay on for the final frantic minute. He and Hamonic were tossing Wings forwards around in the corner of the Isles zone, the sort of physical dominance the Isles didn't have when both were out.
"I just wanted to be out there for that," Boychuk said. Surely the Islanders and the coaches felt the same way.