TAMPA BAY, FLORIDA– Not even 20 minutes into the fifth game of the season, the New York Islanders’ rejuvenated second defensive pairing was split up, as the line tinkering continued for new head coach Lane Lambert.
The hard-hitting Alexander Romanov was split up with the smooth-skating Noah Dobson, with the former skating alongside Ryan Pulock and the latter with Adam Pelech, perhaps the Islanders’ best defensive defenseman.
Although the defensive changes were necessary, the New York Islanders’ mistakes led to a 5-3 loss.
After a poor team performance against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, changes were expected; however, the in-game defensive personnel changes were not due to poor play, per the first-year bench boss.
“We’re on the road,” Lambert said. “In terms of their matchups and things like that, we move some people around … We didn’t split them up because we weren’t seeing things, we split them up because we are on the road and can’t get the matchups we want.”
For those that do not know, the home team gets to make the last line changes, so with the Islanders on the road, Tampa got the matchups they wanted.
The move to split the two 22-year-olds balanced out the pairings a bit.
This was something that Stefen Rosner wrote about following the acquisition of Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens, as it created a defensive imbalance if he was paired with Dobson.
Instead, opting to play each with a steadying force like Pelech and Pulock should, in theory, enable the top four to comfortably go up against any line thrown their way. Splitting up the top pair was something former head coach Barry Trotz did quite often last season as a way to defend better on the road when those aforementioned matchups did not go the Islanders’ way.
While this was Lambert’s intent, that does not always go to plan.
In the loss to the Lightning, the Islanders struggled quite a bit in their own end. The team dictated play in the first and played well overall, out-shooting Tampa Bay 36-26, but not well enough for the score to be in their favor come the end of the sixty-minute affair.
Dobson and Romanov each were a minus-one in the first period, as Dobson skated with Pelech and Romanov with Mayfield at the time of the goals. On the game opener, Mayfield coughed up the puck as Ilya Sorokin was behind the net, resulting in a frustrating goal against.
The second seemed to be more of a backchecking blunder on Brock Nelson.
Dobson and Pelech executed sound gap control on Brayden Point, with Dobson getting a piece of Poit’s shot, which sent the puck fluttering on goal and off the crossbar behind New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin.
Brandon Hagel flew past the puck-watching Brock Nelson to tuck in the rebound.
Through the first four games, the Dobson-Romanov pairing played just under 54 minutes together at five-on-five action, the second most among defensive pairings, and while the duo struggled at times to exit the zone, it still managed to be a positive-Corsi unit, being on the ice for 62 shot attempts for vs. 58 against.
The pairing has a +2 goal differential, but that may be buoyed by Dobson’s two goals.
Regardless of how the top four defenders line up, the pairings are constructed in similar ways. Dobson and Pulock are two more offensively-minded blueliners who can help create offense, while Romanov and Pelech excel in their own end.
The New York Islanders play the Florida Panthers on Sunday night, and we shall see if Lane Lambert puts Alexander Romanov back with Noah Dobson or keeps them separated against an elite offense.