Winning without three of your top defensemen is no easy task for any team, but that's precisely what the NY Islanders are doing. With points in 11 of their last 12, the Isles are the hottest team in the NHL in that span, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will be visiting UBS Arena tomorrow night.
Adam Pelech was placed on LTIR on Nov. 25, with Sebastian Aho joining him on IR two days later. Since then, the Isles have been managing to stay in the win column (or at least out of the regulation loss column) but recently took another hit with Ryan Pulock being added to the IR on Friday.
Replacing the three have been Mike Reilly (claimed off waivers on Nov. 25), Robert Bortuzzo (aquired for a seventh-round pick on Dec. 8), and Samuel Bolduc. Smith and Bolduc have been playing as well as anyone could hope, with Bortuzzo appearing in his first game in blue and orange last night.
Reilly has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to the offensive contribution from the blue line. Noah Dobson has been carrying that burden himself all season, but Reilly has contributed four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in six games played. His willingness to get pucks towards the net, adding 17 shots on goal, has helped with creating opportunities while Dobson is catching a breather.
Bolduc struggled in the early parts of the season, starting the year as the Isles' seventh defenseman. Rarely seeing the ice in the third period, Bolduc has turned a corner and has been gaining the trust of Lane Lambert. In his last four games, he's seen 16 minutes of ice time in each, playing a season-high last night against the Kings, logging 18:03.
"I don't know. I just keep working hard in practice," said Bolduc, according to Stefan Rosner of The Hockey News. "I mean, eventually, if you keep working hard, good things will happen, and playing more minutes helps you to be confident in yourself."
Just stepping into the door with his first order of business being shaving his beard, Bortuzzo has played just one game with the Isles but brings in a new veteran presence. Bortuzzo made that presence known on his first shift with his new team, laying the body against the boards, and sending Trevor Moore to the ice. Lane Lambert rewarded the Bolduc-Bortuzzo pairing, trusting them to shut the game down, giving them ice time in the waning moments of the game. Bortuzzo played 16:03 last night in just his fifth game of the season.
"Any time you can earn the trust, that's all you're trying to do," said Bortuzzo on Lambert's trust in the veteran defenseman. "Earn their trust as much as possible and they'll use you when they use you. It was great moving the puck with Boldy [Bolduc] tonight. Were trying to, you know, build something here and work together. The kids obviously got a ton of talent, and I thought we moved the puck pretty cleanly. I'm excited to get after rit next game."