The NY Islanders are yet to find a rhythm on defense. Scott Mayfield and Alexander Romanov have both struggled, with the latter having been on the ice for 7 of the 11 game-tying goals in the 3rd-period. Ryan Pulock has been inconsistent, though in fairness has had a different defensive pairing quite often. Noah Dobson has been the only defenseman undeserving of criticism, having 22 points and 62 blocked shots.
Suffice it to say, that the Islanders are missing Sebastian Aho in their lineup right now. During the stretch run for the playoffs last season, Aho had six points in the final 12 games with a +3 rating. He seemed to have found a niche with Dobson last season, given their speed and passing ability. He also helps the 2nd power-play unit that struggles to put the puck on the net. However, for Aho to return to everyday action, one defenseman must be taken out of the lineup. None of the veterans listed above are going to sit, nor should they- we have seen much better from all of them. That leaves just two starting defensemen: Samuel Bolduc and newcomer Mike Reilly.
Mike Reilly deserves to keep his spot in the rotation.
In just four games with the Islanders, we have seen Reilly make some great plays on defense. In Tuesday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks, Reilly blocked two breakaway shots from Anthony Duclair and blocked several pass plays in front of Ilya Sorokin. Reilly's not afraid to shoot the puck either, having ten shots on goal already. However, we have also seen some rough patches in Reilly's game. He turned the puck over twice against the New Jersey Devils, leading to goals for both Michael McLeod and Jack Hughes. In fairness to Reilly, he had only played two games with the Florida Panthers before being waived.
Bolduc can be put in the same category. His clear from the defensive zone helped set up Bo Horvat's first-period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes. Bolduc also had two quality scoring chances against the Sharks. However, his defense has been atrocious. Bolduc's inability to block shots and make the most of takeaway opportunities in front of the net has led to his -6 rating. Bolduc's turnovers that led to Panthers goals for Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe even made Pulock look frustrated.
Bottom line: Reilly deserves to play when Aho comes back. His explosiveness and offensive zone entrees bring an element to the Islanders only Dobson possesses. Reilly has improved the past couple of games, breaking up plays in the defensive zone before they develop. With Romanov failing to develop chemistry with Dobson and Pulock, Lane Lambert should try playing Reilly with one of them instead. It is clear Bolduc is not pairing well with Pulock, whose defense has suffered as a result. As Reilly continues getting more ice time and acclimated with his new teammates, expect his play to cultivate in this coming homestand.