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Dobson Struggling with Aho, 4 Options to Stabilize Islanders Backend



New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson during morning skatei n Minnesota on Feb. 28. (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)
New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson during morning skatei n Minnesota on Feb. 28. (Photo courtesy of New York Islanders Twitter)

Offensively, New York Islanders 23-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson has led from the backend, but the same can’t be said for his defensive play.

It’s been an adventure most nights, especially alongside Sebastian Aho, as both are not known for their shutdown ability.

Islanders head coach Lane Lambert has switched up his pairings out of necessity, with Adam Pelech missing 21 games earlier in the year, but has tried different combinations even with him back in the lineup.

The latest line changes, having Adam Pelech with Scott Mayfield and Alexander Romanov with Ryan Pulock, have brought the best out of all four.

But, as mentioned, the Aho-Dobson pairing has been lackluster, and their poor play impacted the Islanders’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

With the Islanders up 1-0 and no pressure on Dobson in the defensive zone, he threw a puck to the neutral zone with no teammates in sight. That allowed the Wild, with speed, to enter the Islanders zone, and an undersized Sebastian Aho allowed Ryan Reaves to get to a rebound first, as he knocked the puck out of the air for his first goal as a Wild.

In 371:41 minutes together, the Islanders have outshot their opponents 212-198, outscoring them 23-17 when Aho and Dobson are on the ice. But the eye test trumps the stat sheet.

As Lambert tries to navigate his defense corps with just 18 games remaining and the top wild-card spot anything but secure, he can take a few routes to stabilize his backend.

1. Pelech with Dobson

It’s happened sporadically during games, but one option for Lambert is to play Adam Pelech with Noah Dobson and call it a day.

Pelech’s absence due to injury left him a bit rusty, but after 16 games, he has looked much stronger and is playing more like the shutdown, elite defenseman he has been for the last few years.

With Dobson being the team’s best offensive defenseman, why not have him play with the team’s best defender?

Although Dobson still needs to be much better in his own zone, regardless of who he is playing with, Pelech could mask more of Dobson’s mistakes with his long reach and defensive zone awareness. Having Pelech would also allow Dobson to transition more with the puck, something he has failed to do with regularity for quite some time.

The two have played 57:39 minutes together, and while on the ice, the Islanders have outshot their opponents 29-23 and have been outscored 2-1. However, the Islanders have out-chanced their opponents 32-23, and it could be a pairing that helps create many more offensive opportunities, which is critical with Mat Barzal out of the lineup.

Adam Pelech-Noah Dobson
Alexander Romanov-Ryan Pulock
Sebastian Aho-Scott Mayfield

2. Bolduc with Dobson

After being recalled on Jan 23, the six-foot-four, 220-pound Samuel Bolduc looked strong through his four games while Noah Dobson recovered from his injury.

After coming out of the lineup for a game once Dobson returned, Lambert went back to Bolduc for a pair, one game in which he scored his first NHL goal against the Seattle Kraken in a 4-0 win before struggling a bit in the 6-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

He returned to Bridgeport on Feb 23, and that’s where he’s resided since.

But if the Islanders are genuinely concerned with that Aho-Dobson pairing, Bolduc proved early on that he can be relied upon defensively and is a player that reads the ice tremendously well, especially from the defensive zone.

That’s the type of player that Dobson needs, and with Bolduc’s size, he can help take some of the workload off Dobson in front of goal and behind the Islanders’ net.

Yes, Bolduc lacks experience, and it’s possible that while trust is growing with Bolduc, the Islanders don’t believe he’s ready to play every day during this playoff race. But given the need to find Dobson, a stronger defensive line partner, it’s worth a shot while the Islanders are still in a playoff spot.

The two have barely paled with one another, 4:58 minutes, and were dominated in that time period, being outshot 4-1, outscored 1-0, and out-chanced 3-1.

Adam Pelech-Scott Mayfield
Alexander Romanov-Ryan Pulock
Samuel Bolduc-Noah Dobson

3. Wotherspoon with Dobson

Another player who showed well when in the lineup, especially early in his NHL tenure, was Parker Wotherspoon. He’s played 12 games with New York this season, and while he isn’t ultra-physical, with just eight hits, he does have seven blocks and just one giveaway in a total of 160 minutes.

He’s not a defenseman that will wow you at 25, but he was a stable presence on the backend when he was in the lineup.

Again, stability is something Noah Dobson needs.

The two have played together for 9:56 minutes, with the Islanders outshooting their opponents 10-9, outscoring them 1-0, and out-chancing them 10-6.

Wotherspoon wasn’t sent down after being taken out of the lineup on Jan 12, as he’s ridden twine for the last 22 games. If the Islanders wanted to return him to Bridgeport, he’d have to go through waivers.

Adam Pelech-Scott Mayfield
Alexander Romanov-Ryan Pulock
Parker Wotherspoon-Noah Dobson

3. Outside Option

On Wednesday night, the Islander sent Simon Holmstrom, Arnaud Durandeau, and Otto Koivula back to Bridgeport to accrue as much salary cap space as possible, with the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline now just a day away.

The Islanders are projected to have around $7.8 million to play with at the deadline, per CapFriendly. Sources have told NYI Hockey Now that Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is looking for a defenseman after bringing in Pierre Envgall for forward depth on Tuesday evening.

Anaheim Ducks defenseman Dmitry Kulikov could be a strong fit with Noah Dobson. He was held out of the Ducks game Wednesday night for trade-related purposes.

Adam Pelech-Scott Mayfield
Alexander Romanov-Ryan Pulock
Dmitry Kulikov-Noah Dobson

The Islanders have also been talking with the Nashville Predators, so another under-the-radar move could be for Dante Fabbro, who, albeit is a right-handed, right-side defenseman, plays more of a physical brand despite being on the shorter end at just six-feet tall.

He could potentially move to his off-side, if that’s something the Islanders felt comfortable doing.

Here’s the rest of our depth defenseman options from the other day, with Shayne Gostisbehere included, who was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

SOURCE: Islanders Searching For Defenseman, 5 Trade Deadline Options