The New York Islanders have got their feet back under them after a rough 0-2-0 start to the year, but they’re still feeling the loss of defenseman Nick Leddy, who was dealt over the summer to create cap space. It has been evident a few times through the young season, no more so than during the pair of losses the Islanders suffered in overtime and in the shootout loss on Saturday in Nashville.
Part of the issue has been the Islanders transition game, which has suffered in both games that went to extra sessions as well as during the course of 5-on-5 play. New York has been a team that has relied on their transition game to generate scoring chances and their defense has played a big role in that.
And for all the complaints about Nick Leddy’s game last season, the 30-year-old defenseman’s smooth skating and ability to move the puck up the ice has been tough to replicate this season. The Islanders have been relying on Noah Dobson to fill the puck-moving defenseman role.
Leddy’s departure and the addition of Zdeno Chara were the only changes that occurred to the Islanders’ blue line, but it’s clear the impact it has had. It was the second consecutive offseason that the New York Islanders had to let go of a puck-moving defenseman without finding a way to replace them.
“We don’t have a Nick Leddy,” Barry Trotz said. “Really the changes is Nick Leddy and Chara. They’re absolutely the total opposites as players. We need the other guys to just collectively try to add some of that element. There’s no one that skates like Nick Leddy on our defense at all. He’s one of those elite skaters.
“That’s part of the salary cap world that we’ve had to deal with. We just have to adjust with the players that we have.”
Last season Nick Leddy was the tip of the spear when it came to the Islanders transition game. His entries per 60 of 9.59 was best among the defensive core and he successfully carried the puck into the zone 58 percent of the time, according to All Three Zones Tracking by Corey Sznajder.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech were the next best among the New York Islanders defense. Dobson, who has been looked at as the best internal replacement for Leddy, had an entries per 60 of 5.04 last season and successfully carried the puck into the zone 27 percent of the time.
Dobson’s transition game has improved this season, but matching Leddy’s impact was always going to be a struggle.
“When you lose a guy like Leds that played so long and that has a very special skillset with the way he can skate it’s hard to fill that role,” Scott Mayfield said. “I think you just change. You kind of flow with it and I think we’ve done a good job so far. There’s definitely some stuff we have to clean up in the D zone. Cleaner breakouts, better reads in terms of finding guys and getting pucks up to our forwards.
“A guy like Leds, you’re not going to fill in exactly the way he skates, but I think We’ve done OK and we just have to find a way to flow through it.”