They are roughly the same size, have roughly similar surnames, sit next to one another in the dressing room and were born seven weeks apart in Canada in 1994. Now they are a pivotal pair for the Islanders as they seek to keep the Penguins’ top forward line in check.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are not the only Islanders tasked with countering the Penguins’ high-powered attack in general and the line of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust in particular.
There are other capable defensemen on the roster, and coach Barry Trotz said it is a team-wide task. But Pulock and Pelech are at the heart of the effort.
In Game 1 of the teams’ first-round playoff series on Wednesday, it went about as well as could be expected in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory.
Sure, the Penguins had their opportunities, but there were no goals from Pittsburgh’s first line, and Guentzel, Crosby and Rust totaled three shots on goal.
“You’re never going to fully eliminate all their chances,” Pelech said. “They’re skilled, and they’re going to make plays. But I think we did a pretty job of managing it.”
Said Pulock, “We did an OK job. Obviously, it’s a tough task. They can create a lot of offense. It’s up to us to be smart and composed and just stick with it. It’s going to be a long series. You have to continue to do those little things night in and night out.”
Crosby arguably is the best player of the 21st century and is a childhood hero for many players younger than him. That only adds to the fun of the job at hand for the Islanders’ Pillar Ps.
“He’s obviously an extremely talented player,” Pelech said. “He works hard. He’s skilled. He’s tough to play against. It’s a big challenge, but it’s almost exciting to have that kind of challenge.”
It helps that Pulock and Pelech have had enough time together to get a feel for one another’s games.
“We’ve definitely developed a lot of chemistry over the course of the season,” Pelech said. “He’s obviously a really talented player and it makes it pretty easy for me to play with him.”
Said Pulock, who has emerged as a budding star with a booming slap shot: “He does all the little things. He’s got a good stick defensively, he hits hard, he finishes guys, he blocks shots. He does all the little things right.”
Even though the Islanders survived Game 1, Trotz does not want them trading scoring chances with Pittsburgh in a wide-open game. That style eventually will play into the Penguins’ hands.
“They have some high-end talent,” Pulock said. “All their lines can create offense. It’s important we do a good job defensively and just stay within our game. That’s what we’ve done all year.
“We can’t get away from it and turn it into a track meet. That’s not really one of our strengths.”