Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano uses a library of adjectives to describe what has made defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky so effective this season for the Islanders.
“Deception. Speed. Hockey sense,” Capuano said. “He has the ability to make opposing forwards know that he’s going to join in on the rush. That’s what we look for. We know he’s a great skater and how elusive he is because of his agility and mobility. And he’s a smart hockey player too.”
The 12-year NHL veteran has three goals and six assists in 19 games since joining the Islanders, lighting the lamp in back-to-back games from Mar. 19-21. He was brought to Long Island for his veteran leadership and prowess on the power play; he’s manned the point on the top unit while posting six of his nine points on the man advantage.
Part of what's made Visnovsky’s success with the Islanders so interesting is the plethora of defensive partners that he's been matched with at even strength. The 36-year-old has played with almost every blueliner on the roster, including three rookies who the Islanders added during training camp.
“I started with [Brian] Strait early in the season, who unfortunately is injured now,” Visnovsky said. “I played with Thomas Hickey and he’s very talented. I played last game with [Joe] Finley, who played well. He’s a big, strong kid. I’ve got more experience than the young guys, so I try to teach them a little. But I don’t talk too much, because the guys play very well. The communication between us is simple, because those guys are all so talented.”
That’s not to say the young players don’t try to learn everything they can from Visnovsky. Even the 6’8” Finley, who plays more of a stay-at-home style – the total antithesis of what the 5’10” Visnovsky brings to the table – is drawing upon the little things his defense partner does well in order to round out his own game.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of things you can learn from his game,” Finley said. “Whether it’s his poise or ability to change the shooting lane from the offensive blue line to get pucks through. It’s little things like that that I see and might try to emulate, to make it more a part of my game.”
In Capuano’s system, defensemen are encouraged to join in the attack when presented with the opportunity. The coach preaches a four-man attack, while still holding his defensemen responsible for maintaining their defensive assignments.
“Everybody’s got a different style,” Capuano said. “Joe and Thomas obviously will join when they can. But Viz is able to beat the first guys on the forecheck with his skill and jump into the offense.”
Hickey says that Visnovsky’s intellect makes him elite at generating those chances.
“You want a four-man attack, so you need a defenseman to join the rush to create opportunities,” Hickey said. “His routes are so good that he puts himself in that position more often than not.”
Visnovsky added that while he enjoys playing the aggressive style with the puck, there are inherent dangers involved.
“There is a risk with that sometimes,” Visnovsky said. “During the game against Montreal, I jumped up and I lost the puck because it bounced, and they came back the other way 3-on-1. They didn’t score and we actually turned around and John Tavares scored right after that, but that’s the risk.”
Finley, who was out of the lineup that night, enjoys the responsibility that comes with being the last defenseman back when his partner joins the attack.
“He’s a guy who’s going to carry the puck a lot, and I’m good with that,” Finley said. “It’s my job, if he’s going to be pinching or playing down low, to read the play and identify whether it’s an odd man situation or if we have numbers. If we lose the puck, I’m trying to make them turn the puck back over to us and transition the other way.”
With Matt Carkner back in the lineup after five weeks on Injured Reserve, Capuano has been rotating his defensive corps to reflect the team’s game-by-game needs. Visnovsky may not play with the same defense partner at even strength for an extended period of time, but whoever skates alongside him will continue to reap the rewards.