The New York Islanders were as bad as it gets defensively last year. Pick a stat and it proves it. But mixing the pairings to partner Scott Mayfield’s skills with Nick Leddy’s will improve those stats.
It wasn’t all on the New York Islanders blue line’s deficiency, rather lack of team defense. But when you look to shore up the back end, it would behoove the team to create more consistency across pairings.
I wrote recently about how Tom Wilson on the top line with Alex Ovechkin was just the first point of proof that Barry Trotz likes to spread his talent out across lines. We saw last year where the Islanders had two scoring lines and two “other” lines.
This created a clear divide for when the Islanders would play only offense or when they would offer only defense (or, rather, no offense). It didn’t work.
You may be able to build a team on two great offensive lines that score and two great defensive lines that pester the other team’s top lines, but the Isles were left with only the former and not the latter.
The bottom two lines just lacked energy, lacked offense and didn’t offer the defensive strength to counter their offensive deficiency.
So now after looking at the forward lines, let’s consider the same strategy on the defensive pairings.
Defensive Pairing Strategy
You had Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk leading the blue line last year – a solid pairing of veteran players with complementary skill sets. The pairings were always in flux behind them, with injuries not helping, but pairing less experienced players together often led to young mistakes and uninspired play.
Which is why Barry Trotz should pair Scott Mayfield with Nick Leddy. I may be much higher on Mayfield’s skills than others, but he offers a stay-at-home, tough style of play that harkens back to guys that you saw on the best teams in the 90’s.
He may not be Scott Stevens, but he can bring that style of play. And this gives Mayfield someone more experienced to learn from as he grows.
Would Nick Leddy have been -42 last year if he had a young, fresh-legged, defensive-minded partner covering for him when he carried the puck? Unlikely.
And let’s not forget that he has talent, being picked in the second-round not long ago, and arguably outplayed both Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech when they were both called up two years ago. Mayfield has more offensive skill than given credit for too, as evidenced by this bit of touch.
Following the first pairing (notice it’s not the ‘top pair’ as I think Barry Trotz will go with a 1A, 1B, 1C mentality) with pairings of Hickey and Pulock followed by Pelech and Boychuk will give the blue line a more well-rounded experience.
Each younger player is paired with a veteran mentor of differing skill sets.
I could see an argument for swapping Hickey and Pelech, but Hickey is simply a more reliable player than Pelech at this stage and that line would be seeing more ice time, and I’m in favor of keeping Boychuk’s ice time down so that he stays on the ice for 70+ games.
His toughness and leadership is just too important to have him missing time with injury due to too much ice time.
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Offensive-zone face-offs or comeback efforts can pair Leddy and Pulock, or even Leddy and Boychuk as the need arises, but regular game flow should hold with Mayfield paired with Leddy if we’re looking at building some consistency and balance on the blue line.