On Tuesday night, the New York Islanders not only lost to the St. Louis Blues 7-5 but lost their top-pairing defenseman, Adam Pelech, just over four minutes into the third period.
As Adam Pelech lost his balance behind his netminder Ilya Sorokin, he quickly dished the puck off his partner, Ryan Pulock. As he made the pass, he was pushed in the back by Blues forward Josh Leivo and fell to a knee, but was still facing up the ice. A second later, Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo charged in and crushed Pelech, seeing the 2022 All-Star defenseman hard into the boards–head first.
His right leg also bent back as well when he fell back.
Bortuzzo hit on Pelech pic.twitter.com/fbDqbSNF5n
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) December 7, 2022
Pelech seemed dazed and confused and needed to be helped off the ice by the trainer and a teammate. He did not return to the game, and Islanders head coach Lane Lambert did not have an update on his status.
For New York, the hope is that Pelech’s injury is not as bad as it looks. They already have one player on injured reserve, as Kyle Palmieri has missed the last seven games with an upper-body injury after taking a hit to the head by Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Reilly.
Palmieri just started skating on his own, with the incident happening two weeks ago.
If Pelech is to miss time, however many games, Robin Salo will likely take his place on the backend.
Salo, 24, played the first four games of the season for New York, with two goals, but has yet to be back in the lineup since Lambert turned to Sebastian Aho on Oct. 22.
Over the month and a half since Salo has served as the Islanders’ seventh defenseman while also being reassigned to Bridgeport (AHL) a few times to stay in game form.
Lambert and Bridgeport Islanders head coach Brent Thompson have both liked what they have seen from him on his AHL stints. Salo’s biggest issue at the NHL level has been his consistency, an issue many players around the NHL struggle with. Despite being a young player, his time to prove himself to be a no-doubt NHL-caliber defenseman with the Islanders is running out.
Salo also can play both defensive sides, which allows Lambert to pair him with any of the five other defensemen.
Here are Lane Lambert’s options:
Reunite Salo with Mayfield
In all four games Salo appeared in for the New York Islanders, Lambert played him alongside Scott Mayfield.
The duo played 42:19 minutes together, outscoring their opponents 3-2, but Salo had a few games where he showed how valuable he could be but then a few games wondering if he is ready for an everyday NHL role.
If need be, a caveat to this pairing reuniting is that the Mayfield-Romanov pairing on Tuesday night struggled mightily in the loss. As a pair, they were on the ice for three goals against, as Mayfield was caught twice while Romanov had a coverage mistake.
“Just a couple of uncharacteristic decisions ended up putting us in a little bit of a bad spot, and you know, those things happen, and we will move forward,” Lambert said following the game.
He could break up that pairing and place Alexander Romanov with Ryan Pulock.
The two have played 45:45 minutes together at even strength, having outscored their opponents 3-1, but were outshot heavily 34-19 and out-chanced 28-14.
Put Salo in Pelech’s Spot
The other option for Lambert could be to keep the bottom two pairings the same and play Salo alongside Pulock. The two actually were competing to be the quarterback of the Islanders’ second power-play unit, with Salo winning the job. But when Salo started to struggle, Lambert awarded Pulock the job, which he still has.
Pulock was taken off the power play last season as he struggled to hit the net with consistency.
Although Pelech is the strongest defenseman on the New York Islanders roster, Pulock is also strong defensively. With Salo alongside him, he can sit back a bit more and let Salo help more in the transition.
Play Salo with Dobson
As mentioned, the Aho-Dobson pairing has been struggling, and Lambert could put that experiment on the back burner and have Salo play with Dobson.
Last season, those two played 45:48 minutes as a pairing, being outshot 34-29 and on the ice for one goal against.
The concern for this pairing would be the defensive side of the puck, as both have struggled in their own zone this season. It would be very similar to Dobson’s current situation with Aho, as both are offensive defensemen.
The New York Islanders may try to upgrade their backend at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline on Mar. 3, as they could use another everyday NHL defenseman.
If they wanted to, the New York Islanders could call up 2019 second-round pick Samuel Bolduc, who currently has 19 points in 22 games for Bridgeport. Bolduc is a left-side defenseman which fills the need, but the 21-year-old missed significant time with an injury last season, followed by most of training camp, failing to be healthy enough to get into a preseason contest.
The Islanders may feel that Bolduc is not ready, and Lamoriello made it clear that he rather wait too long to call prospects up, rather than rush it.
Pelech, very well, could be fine and, at the very least, miss a game or two. It did not look great–it seemed pretty serious–but we don’t know the extent of the injury at this time.