Islanders top defensive pair still hasn’t played together in preseason

If the Islanders are planning to start the season with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock in place as their top pair, as per usual, then they will do so relying on residual chemistry built up from years of playing together.

Because at roughly the halfway point of the preseason, Pelech and Pulock have not yet been paired together on the ice.

And as the Islanders rolled out a veteran-laden group for Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Rangers — including six of the seven defensemen likely to be on the opening night roster — it was Pelech with Noah Dobson and Pulock with Alexander Romanov.

That is a configuration the Islanders used regularly late last season, with Pelech able to give some defensive cover to Dobson and Romanov gaining some needed comfortability alongside Pulock. But going away from the Pelech-Pulock pair that was considered one of the best in the league not too long ago still represents something significant if coach Lane Lambert does indeed follow that path.

“They have played together a lot. They’re a very, very good pair,” Lambert said Saturday morning. “And then also within that, you look at the rest of the defensemen and who fits well and who plays best with who. At times, based on that, you make adjustments.”


Ryan Pulock, taking a shot during the Islanders' 5-3 win over the Rangers, hasn't been paired with his usual defensive partner Adam Pelech yet this preseason.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock, taking a shot during the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Rangers, hasn’t been paired with his usual defensive partner Adam Pelech yet this preseason.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

In other words, what may be best for Pelech and Pulock may not be best for Dobson and Romanov, who struggled as a pair early last season. Pelech and Dobson, by contrast, accounted for a 61.63 expected goals rate — the best of any Islanders defensive pair with over 100 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick.

“I think with Adam, he’s really good ’cause he’s really good defensively,” Dobson told The Post. “[But] I think he’s underrated in a way where he can make plays offensively, too. So I feel like we can work well off each other in the O-zone as well, but obviously he’s known for his defense.”

For now, this seems to be a solution to a problem that, last year, ended too often with Dobson playing bottom-pair minutes at five-on-five. It is a compromise that everyone could make work.


Adam Pelech, who hasn't been paired yet with Ryan Pulock this season, battles for the puck with Garnet Hathaway during a recent preseason game against the Flyers.
Defenseman Adam Pelech, who hasn’t been paired yet with Ryan Pulock this season, battles for the puck with Garnet Hathaway during a recent preseason game against the Flyers.
Getty Images

“Obviously me and Adam had some good years of being a shutdown pair,” Pulock said. “I think if we are together, we are. If we aren’t then we’re gonna continue to do our best and try to play hard in that way and be complete players no matter what.”


All four forward lines scored in Saturday’s win over the Rangers, with three of the groupings representative of potential opening night combinations.

“I thought all four lines looked good most of the night,” Lambert said. “There was some dangerous plays. We continued to create changes throughout the game.”


Kyle Palmieri (undisclosed) still has yet to join the team for practice.

source: nypost.com