As the season progresses, so do the NY Islanders. After losing a pair of key pieces in Mathew Barzal and J.G. Pageau at separate times due to injury, the Islanders were forced to restructure their system and revert back to their Barry Trotz-ien style of play. Lucky for the Islanders, head coach Lane Lambert stood beside Trotz for 12 seasons prior to the 2022-23 season, so he was able to revive the system rather easily and the players have responded to it well. One player in particular that has stood out for his positive play has been 23-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov.
Only more recently have Islander fans begun to appreciate the presence of Romanov on the Islanders' blue line. Up until about mid-February, Romanov hadn't been bad, but he hadn't been particularly good either, as he was trying to figure out his role in the lineup. He started on Noah Dobson's left but has shifted up and down the top-6 on defense. More recently he's been found on Ryan Pulock's left and the change has worked wonders for Romanov.
From the start of the season through Feb. 15th, the growing pains with Romanov were obvious. Yes, he was a much better skater than what the Islanders had previously, however, there were defensive lapses and he wasn't all that offensive on the opposing team's end of the ice. According to NaturalStatTrick, in 56 games during that span, Romanov's xGF% has been quite low at 46.91. The numbers suggest he had been on the ice and contributing to more chances against than he was helping in creating chances for.
However, things took a turn for the better in Romanov's development when he was put in a situation that suited his defensive style of play more. Filter the xGF% model one week later and Romanov has put together a really great string of six games. The points are starting to fall a little more often with three points (one goal, two assists) in his last six games. Compared to his previous 14 games, Romanov collected just two points.
It's not just the points that have increased, though. Romanov has become a positive presence on the ice helping the Islanders create a lot more chances than he was previously totaling a 58.18 xGF%, an 11.27% increase which is quite a lot.
Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres certainly provided quite the sample of the Islander defenseman's new body of work. Romanov was dominant tallying two assists and totaling a 76.32 xGF%, neck-and-neck with Pulock as the best Islander defenseman of the night.
Romanov's evolution couldn't have come at a better time as the Islanders continue to battle to remain in the playoffs. All three of the Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Florida Panthers won, keeping things just as tight in the division before Tuesday's 7:30 puck drop, but beating the Sabres who are also in the race created a little separation. The Islanders will need Romanov to continue to be this player and although the sample is small, there's reason to believe the 23-year-old defenseman can continue to develop positively.