Two short- and long-term New York Islanders themes collided in their Game 6 victory over the Washington Capitals Saturday afternoon: The Islanders were missing three key defensemen to injuries; the Islanders' growing arsenal of young defensemen made those losses slightly less devastating.
With Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky already out injured, Griffin Reinhart got the first crack at an NHL playoff debut in Game 5. That didn't go as well as hoped; even worse, the Isles suffered another injury, to Calvin de Haan.
So for Game 6 at home the Isles went with an entirely new pairing in Scott Mayfield, 22, and Matt Donovan, 24.
Mayfield had just five games of NHL experience, all at the play-it-out end of 2013-14. Donovan has been up with the Isles all season long, but only saw action in 12 games after playing 52 the previous season.
They were used carefully during Game 6, something that makes Game 7 look dangerous without the home change as Reinhart found out. Mayfield actually played more -- 10:30, all at even strength -- but Donovan's 10:17 was limited by a bizarre 10-minute misconduct handed out toward the end of the second period. Donovan's TOI included a shift each on the penalty kill and the power play.
They saw their most action against Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jason Chimera. Chimera learned the hard way about the 6'5 Mayfield's size and strength:
Mayfield. pic.twitter.com/sMekcvMEGH— Keith Quinn (@KeithLHHockey) April 25, 2015
The pair's usage was weighted heavily toward offensive zone starts -- eight there, with just one starting in the D zone -- and basically only broke even in on-ice shot attempts.
So they didn't blow the competition away, and they did nothing to refute the notion that Johansson and particularly Kuznetsov are really dangerous. If this young defensive pairing is used in Game 7, no doubt Barry Trotz will look to target them with his best the way he tried to expose young Reinhart.
But given the circumstances, they were impressively poised, usually quick to move the puck out, and smart with their pinches -- an approach the Isles insist on -- rather than being too safe and conservative in their first NHL playoff action. When retrieving dump-ins, Mayfield was elusive behind the net and didn't fear the forecheck nor the Caps vets like Chimera, who sought to ride him.
For Donovan, it had to be a relief and also an audition for the future. He was the perfect 7/8 defenseman this season, keeping an upbeat attitude despite constantly being scratched for the #7 of the moment whenever an Islanders regular went down. He's a free agent again this summer, and this past season's experience and the fact there are more young prospects on the way might have him seeking other options.
(On the last point, Ryan Pulock and his big right-handed shot was also a candidate to play as an injury fill-in this series, especially with the Islanders power play still scoreless.)
Thomas Hickey's quote in Newsday sets the context for what Donovan just did:
"Dono, hats off to him," Thomas Hickey said. "He's a confident guy, and the way his season's gone, sometimes a guy might lose confidence. Not him. He's a great team guy and he was tremendous when he got his chance."
It was good to see, and barring miraculous health news from a fallen regular they'll need it again Monday night.
This emergency fill-in situation makes Game 7 -- and the second round, should the Islanders win the series in Washington -- all the more daunting. But Saturday afternoon's performance at least showed the situation isn't hopeless.