One day before facing the Ottawa Senators, the New York Islanders scored a huge win off the ice.
The Islanders signed Johnny Boychuk to a seven-year deal Thursday, inking with the defenseman until the 2021-22 season.
“I’m just happy to get it done,” Boychuk said. “Just looking at how good we are with the group of guys we have. We're hard working, we’re fast. We’re going to be a good team for a long time and it’s the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.”
Boychuk, 31, leads all Islanders defensemen in points (32), assists (25) and plus-minus rating (+17) through 59 games this season. The Edmonton, Alberta native has already established career highs in goals (seven), assists and points in his first season with the Islanders and ninth professional season.
Boychuk’s deal comes weeks after Nick Leddy’s seven-year pact, meaning the defense partners will anchor the Islanders blueline together.
“We were talking back and forth throughout the year,” Boychuk said. “We’re partners, so it’s easier to sign when you have chemistry like that with your defense partner.”
Boychuk’s contract extension is another piece of good news for the Islanders, who welcomed back Kyle Okposo on Tuesday night. Okposo was sidelined for 22 games following emergency eye surgery prior to Tuesday.
Now, with Boychuk signed and Okposo back, the Islanders are focusing on a season sweep of the Sens. The Islanders won first the two meetings this season are 5-2-0 in their last seven games against Ottawa.
The Senators are on a furious charge to make the playoffs, skating to a 11-2-2 record since Feb. 10. Ottawa is in a tight-battle for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, chasing the Boston Bruins.
“They need the points so it’s going to be a big game for us,” Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said.
The Islanders need points too. They ceded the top spot in the division to the New York Rangers on Monday and are looking to reclaim it, ensuring home-ice in the first round of the playoffs. Capuano doesn’t want to see his guys discouraged after losing on a fluky bounce to their rivals. He wants the same structure and the same effort.
“After an emotional game against the Rangers, it’s how are we going to come back, how are we going to respond? I’m looking for the same type of game out of our guys,” Capuano said.
Defenseman Erik Karlsson leads Ottawa with 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) on the season. The Sens present a balanced attack, having nine players with 10 or more goals and five players with 42 or more points.
In goal, 27-year-old Andrew Hammond has been a revelation for Ottawa. Hammond has played lights-out since his call-up from Binghamton of the AHL after injuries to Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. In nine games, the White Rock, British Columbia native has a record of 8-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. For his efforts, Hammond was named the NHL's first star of the week on March 2.
Since hiring Dave Cameron to replace Paul MacLean as head coach in December, Cameron has led Ottawa to a 20-13-6 record. Cameron was originally drafted by the Islanders in 1978 and is in now in his first career NHL head coaching job.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m.