Islanders: Three takeaways as they escape Philadelphia with 2-1 OT win
By Ryan Grosso
3. Pelech and Pulock Continue Their Strong 2020-21
There were a lot of negatives I could’ve chosen to pick out of this game for any or all of these three takeaways. But, since the first two are distinctly positive, I figured we’d wrap up on a similarly optimistic note in our final one. I want to talk about Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and the case for allowing these two blue line behemoths to share the 2020-21 Norris Trophy.
Okay, I’m just kidding about that last part, but if there was ever a time to shake up the NHL awards scene, am I right?
Anyway, Pelech and Pulock’s unbelievably strong 2020-21 continued in its usual fashion on Monday night. In a game that again saw the Islanders pretty much collectively fail to show up until after the first 40 minutes, Pelech and Pulock stood out for their impressive defensive play.
Most Islanders were thoroughly out-attempted in the shots column on Monday. Pelech and Pulock themselves were out-attempted 25-14 in total shot attempts, while on unblocked attempts they still trailed 17-11, those stats via Natural Stat Trick.
So what set the Islanders top D pair apart from their peers on Monday? It was their ability to limit shot location quality. Despite being out-possessed and out-shot attempted pretty thoroughly, the Pelech-Pulock duo still took home over 60% of the Expected Goals, when adjusted for score and venue. How did they do it? Pretty much by doing what they do every night.
Pelech and Pulock’s strength as a pair all season has come from their ability to limit shot attempts from the dangerous areas right in front of the net, and to operate as a synchronized unit when executing defensive zone breakouts.
When looking at the latter, that means moving as a unit, playing supportive hockey in the defensive zone. Whenever the Philadelphia forecheck pressured one of Pulock or Pelech, the other was almost always available to recover a loose puck chipped into an open corner or passed to them, then complete the breakout.
That didn’t always work perfectly, and the unit did see itself trapped in its own end or unable to recover a loose puck, as on the Flyers’ lone goal of the night. But, by and large, they limited those dangerous chances well despite the sheer volume of time they spent in their own zone, and in facing big minutes against tough competition, they again showed why they are one of the NHL’s top D pairs in 2020-21.