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Play Of The Day: Pelech, Pulock and the Punchless Power Play

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There’s an obvious potential fix staring Doug Weight in the face. Will he take it?

NHL: New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning
Ryan Pulock making a defensive mistake
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Pelech didn’t have a choice.

Well, I suppose if you want to get technical about it, he could’ve played better defense, sure. He is technically a defenseman after all, I get that. He could’ve read the play better, he could’ve seen Dustin Brown driving to the net with speed, he could’ve gotten in better position to cover him seeing as he had ample time to do so. Yes, I suppose this is all technically true.

But you must understand, he didn’t have a choice.

Today’s Play Of The Day is Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech scoring a goal into his own net during the team’s 3-2 loss to the Kings on Sunday night in LA.

Now look, I have to imagine that Butchie didn’t actually mean to say that Pelech had no choice but to score into his own goal. He probably meant that Pelech, having been beaten by Brown, had no choice but to try to get a stick on the puck. That’s my guess.

Either way, it comes off as a guy trying to make excuses for the young defenseman. It's not like Pelech came close to breaking up the play and sending the puck off to the side to think he was exercising good judgment; his deflection sent the puck right smack dab into the middle of the net.

The fact is Pelech played this rush poorly. Now first let me just acknowledge that both Tavares and Eberle could’ve done better to get back on defense following their missed opportunity on the other end (to put it lightly). Be that as it may, by the time Brown hit the red line he was already past Tavares. Pelech should have - and in fact, appeared to have - seen the unguarded Brown coming in with speed.

Pelech had time to get over to guard Brown as he drove to the net. He failed to do so. That he ended up deflecting the puck into his own net is almost besides the point. His failure to get back is what led him to have to reach for a puck that he could very well have just intercepted had he stayed with Brown.

Or you can disregard everything I just said and chalk it up to a turkey overdose. That's probably no more outlandish than whatever it is Doug Weight must've been thinking to leave Pelech in the lineup when the team set out for its three-game California road trip. Remember, the Isles were coming off a shootout loss to St. Louis in which they went an abominable 0-for-6 on the power play (including over a minute of 5-on-3 time). That put them at 0-for-10 through their first three games.

Sitting in the press box all season as a healthy scratch has been Ryan Pulock, he of the 100mph slap shot and dynamic offensive ability we've already seen play a pivotal role in helping the Isles win a playoff game.

Pulock should've been in the lineup against Anaheim; he wasn't. After going 0-for-5 on the PP in that one, he should’ve been in the lineup for at least one of the back-to-back set of games against San Jose and LA; he wasn't. The team is now 0-for-20 on the PP, one of only two teams (the Ducks being the other) that have yet to score with the man advantage.

The common reasons cited for the team’s reluctance to play Pulock is he struggles in the defensive zone and in turning the puck over. I believe there is merit to both of these concerns. I also believe he brings so much more to the table than Pelech that it shouldn’t even be a question that his development should be prioritized.

Particularly when you consider that Pelech himself struggles in the defensive zone and in turning the puck over at least as much as Pulock does. In fact he spent his California road trip turning the puck over incessantly. Here’s a compilation I put together of some turnovers, missed passes, icings and poor retrievals from the Cali swing

Now you might notice I cut away from several plays right after the puck was turned over or a pass was missed. That's because what occurs after such mistakes isn't entirely relevant. It shouldn’t matter that the opposing team happened to capitalize on a Pulock turnover but not on a Pelech turnover that was just as blatant. That part is not under the player’s control; the turnover is.

By the way, somehow de Haan was not credited with an official “takeaway” in this entire game despite the fact that he objectively took the puck away from Kopitar (who didn’t commit one official “giveaway”) here. Similarly, Pelech only had one giveaway even though there are three shown in the above video alone. Next time someone actually cites these fugazi numbers you can refer them here.

Anyway, in truth I do like Pelech and don’t mean for this post to disparage him. I think he’s a perfectly fine 7th defenseman; I only wish the team would play him as such. He did make a few solid plays in these three games that I meant to make a video of as well, just to be fair (I ran out of time). But those plays were few and far between, and consisted mostly of his successfully giving the puck to a teammate who is actually capable of doing something with it.

Both Pelech and Pulock might be suspect in the defensive zone; both might be prone to the occasional turnover. But only one of them offers considerable offensive upside. Only one of them can actually move and carry the puck effectively. Only one of them can potentially help solve the team’s punch-less power play.

So long as Weight doesn’t deem Pulock’s slapper a safety hazard at the last moment, it appears he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night against the Rangers. It’s about time. Here’s to hoping the team lets no. 6 play his game and work through his mistakes like they’re allowing no. 50 to work through his. There’s no doubt in which player the greater reward lies.