Islanders Training Camp: New 'shutdown' D pair in the cards?

These colors don't run. - Bruce Bennett

September is for new equipment and for reading into training camp pairings.

The forward lines from the first two days of New York Islanders training camp were as most expected: Pierre-Marc Bouchard slides into the P.A. Parenteau Memorial rent-a-walk-year slot next to John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey resume the company of one another. Michael Grabner orients newcomers Peter Regin and Cal Clutterbuck to lightspeed. And so on.

The defensive pairings? They offered a little different wrinkle on the normal order of things:

Hamonic-Strait
Hickey-Visnovsky
MacDonald-Carkner
Finley-Martinek

The long-running pairing of Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald is skating apart. They were traditionally the "shutdown" pair, used for defensive situations and against the toughest competition.

Though, as garik16 noted here earlier this summer, there is reason to question whether they are as effective in this role as believed. [Synergy update, Sept. 17: Arthur Staple in Newsday notes that analytics are indeed behind the Isles experimentation with splitting the pair.]

Experimentation and a safe setting to re-evaluate assumptions is sometimes what training camp is for. But what if this shuffle stuck?

Though Brian Strait is seen as a stay-at-home defensemen, his heaviest usage last year was in offensive zone starts, playing a safety role next to the now-departed offensive specialist and near-homonym Mark Streit.

2012-13 GP Off. Zone Start %
Strait 19 58.8
Streit 48 56.4
Visnovsky 35 55.6
Hickey 39 54.4
Martinek 13 53.2
Carkner 22 51.0
Finley 16 50.5
Hamonic 48 45.9
MacDonald 48 45.9

Source: Behindthenet.ca

Discerning Isles fans have long wondered who is the key driver in the shutdown marriage -- MacDonald or Hamonic? If these pairings were to last, we just might find out the answer. (And it's an interesting question going into this season, as Hamonic just signed a long-term deal while MacDonald is entering his walk year.)

Anyway, at least based on usage in the lockout- and injury-shortened 2013 season, the training camp alignment (after two insignificant days, mind you) would have last season's defensive pair split into one pair with an O-zone guy and one pair with a more D-zone guy.

Additional background for all of this is that Radek Martinek is in camp on a PTO (so, no contract as of yet) and it's widely expected that the prospect trio of Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan and dark horse Aaron Ness have at least one NHL roster spot to win among them.

Again, it's too early to draw conclusions, but it's fun to explore what the ramifications of different mixes would be. And if there's anything reassuring to read after the first two days? The mobile possession hound pairing of Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey remains intact.

For now.

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