Much was made of the Islanders’ organizational depth heading into this season and after 25 games it’s being put to the test.
Defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky were both placed on injured reserve Wednesday, while Travis Hamonic left Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators with an injury. Boychuk has missed the team’s last three games, while Visnovsky has missed two, but the Islanders haven’t missed a beat, going 2-1-0. With Hamonic’s status in question for Thursday’s game in Ottawa, the Islanders may call on another defenseman-in-waiting to fill the void.
“The guys that have stepped in have done a great job,” Thomas Hickey said. “We’ve asked more of every guy that’s already playing to take a few more minutes and a bit more responsibility and guys have done a really good job of that.”
Brian Strait and Matt Donovan filled in seamlessly for Boychuk and Visnovsky in recent games, while the Islanders recalled Griffin Reinhart from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Wednesday. Strait has 93 games of NHL experience and was a regular in the Islanders’ top six over the past two seasons, while Donovan has 58 NHL games under his belt, including 52 games last season. Boychuk and Visnovsky’s leadership can’t be replaced, but having experienced NHL players to step in has softened the blow of losing the high-end D-men.
“We knew that we were going to need extra bodies,” Strait said. “Last year we needed it and didn’t exactly have it. We’re very confident and comfortable with the situation we are in and the guys we have in the lineup.”
The Isles are 3-0-0 this season when Donovan plays and 10-5-0 with Strait. Those two defensemen aren’t playing soft minutes either, both averaging nearly 18-and-a-half minutes per game.
“I thought [Donovan] and Brian [Strait] have done a great job,” Head Coach Jack Capuano said after Tuesday’s win. “Matt has stepped right in after sitting a quite few weeks during the start of the season.”
Having experienced players waiting in the wings and practicing with the team every day bred familiarity among the defense corps. Hickey and Strait were paired together for the past two games, but hadn’t spent a lot of time on ice together prior. Still, Hickey had a good idea of what Strait would bring to the table.
“Brian is stable and predictable,” Hickey said. “He plays the same game every time; he moves the puck quickly, he’s physical, he talks a lot. We’re good friends and have good chemistry. It’s nice stepping in with a guy that I haven’t played too much with, but feels like we’ve played together a lot.”
Reinhart will be the least experienced defenseman on the Islanders roster Thursday, but the 2012 first-rounder skated with Nick Leddy – the Islanders most experienced defenseman – at Wednesday’s practice. Capuano wouldn’t commit to naming pairs for Thursday’s game, but said it’s a solid opportunity for Reinhart.
“Griffin was with us at the start of the year and he’ll get another opportunity now,” Capuano said. “Hopefully he can step in and help us out. The coaches said he was playing well. [I want him to] play with some urgency, play physical, move the puck and use his body.”
Reinhart is the first defenseman to be called up from Bridgeport this season, as the Islanders hadn’t previously had to dip into the highly-touted Sound Tigers defensive corp.
Thursday night will be another test for the Islanders depth on D. The best grade they can get is a W.