Thomas Hickey dropped the gloves for his first NHL fight on Thursday night, answering a challenge from Dallas' Radek Faksa. The 6-foot, 189-pound defenseman hung with the 6-3, 210-pound forward and scored a takedown at the end of the fight.
But Hickey had another NHL first on Thursday, wearing an A for the Islanders. The 27-year-old doesn't usually wear a letter for the Isles, but was a logical choice for the coaching staff in wake of injuries to the captains, given the example Hickey sets on the ice.
"I've been there, that's a proud moment for him I'm sure," interim coach Doug Weight said. "We decided to put it on him, but he knows he's a leader and a lot of guys know they're leaders in there without having letters on."
Hickey does have some captain experience in him, wearing an A with the Manchester Monarchs for three seasons, as well as captaining the Canadian junior team to a gold medal in 2009.
Hickey is the shortest and lightest defenseman on the Islanders' blue line, but plays bigger than his size. Between flattening Jonathan Drouin in the playoffs last season and the hit on Devin Shore that sparked his altercation with Faksa, Hickey is showing some big-hit prowess. He's durable enough to take it too, playing in 307 of a possible 337 games in his NHL career.
Video: Thomas Hickey meets Thomas Hickey
"He had a great hit and stepping up like that, he's a gamer and we're a better team with Thomas Hickey that's for sure," Weight said.
On the biggest stage, Hickey has elevated his game further. Between the OT goal in Washington to send the Islanders to the playoffs and the OT winner in Game 3 vs. Florida, Hickey was a part of some of the Islanders' biggest moments last season. Hickey was also on the ice for Tavares' series-winner against the Panthers.
"Just the way he performs when games are physical or meaty, March, April, May, June he's that type of player," Weight said. "He competes and he's a big piece or our D and our leadership, just a good kid and his voice is heard. That's why our team is going to make a run at this because of guys like that in the room."
Tavares Taking To Penalty Killing:
Even through 553 games and 505 points, John Tavares is still recording NHL firsts.
The Islanders' captain scored his first-career shorthanded goal on Thursday night, stickhandling in on a breakaway and snapping a shot stick side on Kari Lehtonen.
"Only took seven-and-a-half years," Tavares joked after the game. "Nice to finally get it."
The timeframe is a little misleading, as Tavares really joined the penalty kill on Dec. 20. What started as a necessity with Casey Cizikas out has turned into a bit of a luxury for the Islanders, who added an NHL all-star to the shorthanded unit.
Video: DAL@NYI: Tavares buries his second while shorthanded
"He gets it right away what we're doing and he's really good at faceoffs which gives us an opportunity to clear the puck right away," said Nikolay Kulemin, Tavares' PK partner. "We can kill time off the clock right after the first faceoff in the D-zone. He's hard on his stick and wins a lot of battles for loose pucks. He does a lot of things well and is a good skater."
The Islanders have killed 25-of-28 (89.2%) penalties in 12 games since Dec. 20. That's comes after a tough stretch where the Islanders allowed a power-play goal in five straight games. Tavares has played 20:03 SH TOI total, or 1:49 per game.
"He's been in a lot of our meetings before, so he knows our system and what we're doing, but he got a couple reps in practice and he got it right away," Kulemin said.