East Meadow, NY– For basically the entirety of this season, the New York Islanders have played without much of their defense corps.
But now, as they face an uphill climb to get back into the playoff picture, the Islanders are nearly back at full strength after activating Ryan Pulock off of long-term injured reserve.
“I feel good,” Pulock said after his practice back with the team on Sunday. “I’ve been trying to get ready for this and get myself ready to be back to help the team win and go on a bit of a playoff push.”
While defending the crease during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 7, Pulock blocked a slapshot off his right knee and struggled to get back to the bench. Although he never officially left the game, he sat the final 8:14 of the third period and was later placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
Pulock has since missed the last 24 games.
In Pulock’s absence, the Islanders have struggled to stay above water, having gone 10-10-5 over the last two months with a goal differential of -13.
However, as awful as it may sound, there was some good to come from Pulock’s injury. While he sat on the shelf along with fellow veteran defenseman Adam Pelech, youngsters Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov have developed into the team’s top pairing on the blue line.
Now that both Pulock and Pelech are back healthy, the Islanders have a stronger, deeper back end as they make the final turn down the stretch of the regular season.
“It’s huge for us,” Romanov said. “He’s a great player and a big addition for our team. We missed him, and we want him to play a lot of ice time and help us win games.”
But things are different with the Iskanders since the last time Pulock was healthy.
Under new head coach Patrick Roy, much of the Islanders’ defensive structure has been overhauled, and it’s expected to undergo further alterations with new assistant coach Benoit Desrosiers joining the staff.
“It’s probably going to take a game or so [to adjust],” Pulock said. “Guys in here have been doing it for a few games. I’m sure they’re still learning on the go. I think I can lean on them a little bit [along with] video and different meetings. While I’ve been out, I’ve been trying to study it the best I can and get a feel for it. But until you’re in the position, you don’t truly get that. I’m looking forward to getting comfortable in that spot. For me, it’s about getting ready to play.”
Roy couldn’t confirm if Pulock will be ready to go against the Maple Leafs tonight in Toronto.
However, the sooner he’s back in the lineup, the better it is for the Islanders.
“He’s been working so hard to be back in the lineup,” Roy said. “I’m very happy with the way he did practice. He’s going to need a bit of time. We’ve been playing Dobson and Romanov for like 30 minutes a night. I do believe that if we drop their ice time to 20-25 minutes and we increase[Pulock’s], I think they’re just going to be better. I think they’re not going to be as tired going on the ice. That’s going to help our team tremendously. ”