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Defensemen Pulling Together For Pelech

The Islanders defensemen will have to pitch in to help fill the void of Adam Pelech's injury

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / NewYorkIslanders.com

The first thing on Ryan Pulock's mind when asked about Adam Pelech's season-ending Achillies tendon injury was his sympathy for his friend and d-partner. 

"It's really disappointing," Pulock said. "It's a tough injury to go through and we really feel for him. It's a big loss for our club as well."

The second - how the Islanders are going to replace such a key contributor on the back end. A task that's easier said than done and one that will require a collective effort from the rest of the Isles' blueliners.  

"He's played very well for us this year," Pulock said. "He does a bit of everything, he defends hard, he's really good on the PK and blocks as many shots as he can. He's a bit of a warrior out there for us. When you lose a player like that, it hurts, but obviously we have some guys here that can step in and get that opportunity." 

Head Coach Barry Trotz said not to expect just one player step in for Pelech's 21 minutes a night, or his nearly three minutes on the PK. The Isles' coach, who said his pairings may shuffle in the short-term, said to expect a different look to the penalty killing personnel. 

"I think it's going to be a combination of five guys," Trotz said. "A guy like Nick Leddy who doesn't get a lot of PK time will get a bit more, but everybody has to step up."

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In the wake of Pelech's injury, Noah Dobson will receive an opportunity for an extended look in the lineup. The rookie defenseman has appeared in 12 of the Islanders' first 39 games, recording two assists over that span. Trotz said steady playing time should help Dobson establish a rhythm.  

"With the opportunity right now, we're going to rely on Noah," Trotz said. "I think he's going to get nothing but confidence. You could tell the other night he was a bit rusty. He had a puck at the point where he has such good vision, he's fanning on a few pucks and just not as sharp. That will come with playing time."

"I think he's a real intelligent player who has taken it all in and done a really good job when he's been in," Trotz added. "Now it's showtime and he's prepared for it." 

Dobson is embracing the opportunity ahead of him.  

"I think obviously it's tough to see a teammate and a guy like Pelly who is such a big part of the team go down, but I think it's definitely an opportunity for myself to try to make the most of it," Dobson said. "It's our job, as all 23 of us in the room now to step up and give a little bit more and now that a teammate is gone and a big part of our team. It's definitely an opportunity and just looking forward to it. I want to keep getting better each game and build on the games I've played so far."

Pelech's injury also presents an opportunity for Sebastian Aho, the three-time AHL All-Star who was recalled on Friday. Aho's a more offensively-inclined defenseman than Pelech, as he leads the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with 20 points (2G, 18A) this season, but is excited for a chance to get back into NHL action for the first time since the 2017-18 season. He also thinks he's a more improved player from his first go-around with the Islanders. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Sebastian Aho joins the team for morning skate in Toronto, he will wear #������4������4������! pic.twitter.com/lhajdr8XNN

"I hope I'm a lot different. More mature," Aho said. "That's the biggest thing, I've been over here for three years now and have some more experience. I don't try to make the shiniest play every time. I know when to try to make plays and when to just get the puck up or get the puck down in the zone. That's the biggest difference." 

Whoever winds up getting the bulk of the playing time in Pelech's absence will reveal itself over the coming months. One thing is certain, Trotz wants his team to lean back on its 'next man up' mentality. 

"Obviously you're not going to replace Adam, who does a lot of things for us," Trotz said. "So it's just next man up and that sort of has to be our mentality all the time."

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