3. A Shut-Down Defensive Performance
This last one may seem kinda lazy, and maybe it is, but it’s not a lie either. The defense, particularly the top-pairing of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, were fantastic as usual.
Tuesday the New Jersey Devils visited Madison Square Garden for a matchup against the Rangers. Jack Hughes had his first multi-goal NHL game, as he potted two of them, and added an assist for good measure to lead the Devils in a 4-3 win.
That was not the case tonight. Whereas Hughes spent most of Tuesday matched up against Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, or Jack Johnson, tonight he faced the Islanders’ top two pairs of Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock, and Nick Leddy – Scott Mayfield.
The difference is pretty much laid bare in the numbers. Hughes didn’t register a shot on goal. His linemate, Yegor Sharangovich didn’t either. Kyle Palmieri, his other linemate who led the Devils in goals during Hughes’s 2019-20 rookie season, had just one shot on target for the entire game.
The Devils other forward lines saw greater deals of success, and Pulock and Pelech were even on the ice when Nathan Bastian snapped Semyon Varlamov’s 140+ minute shutout streak. But the Islanders focused their efforts on shutting down that Hughes line, and they did it.
Barry Trotz said it’s a possibility that Michael Dal Colle will come off injured reserve soon. Oliver Wahlstrom is still waiting for his season debut, and Dmytro Timashov was called up to the taxi squad. With all those spare bodies around to plug into the third line with J.G. Pageau, is it now time to sit Ross Johnston?
Look, Ross has his uses, and I know there’s a segment of the fanbase who think he’s Clark Gillies 2.0, just waiting to be unleashed. But it’s time to give someone else a turn.
Pageau has been a great fit as the Islanders’ 3C. He does all the things Barry Trotz could want a middle-six center to do, and he’s rewarded with linemates in Johnston and Bellows who average less than 10 minutes a game and drag his 5v5 numbers down.
I know there’s probably no shot that Trotz plays Wahlstrom and Bellows together, but it’s time to plug someone new into the left side of that third line regardless.