After last night’s enormous 2-0 win against Columbus, the New York Islanders have 13 games remaining in their season. For each of these games, I will try to take a quick look at one random play that stuck out to me.
The play I have chosen from last night’s game was a first-period shift from defenseman Ryan Pulock. This shift was a great example of how well his two-way game has developed and the confidence with which he is playing.
Pulock has really emerged this season under Barry Trotz, who has treated him like this team’s top shutdown defender from day one. The 45% shot-share doesn’t look pretty, but it’s pretty obvious that is a direct result of his playing against the opposing team’s top forward line every night.
Just today, James Mirtle of The Athletic wrote a great piece showing matchup data for all NHL defensemen. The numbers confirm Pulock is playing the most difficult minutes of any Islanders blueliner, with over 40 percent of his ice time coming against opposing teams’ top lines:
He has also started the lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone (39.7%) of any defenseman on the team by a long shot. So I’m not putting much value into the low shot-share. Anyway, the Islanders as a team are fourth-worst in the league in shot attempt differential. It’s clear the focus is on winning the battle of high-quality scoring chances, and Pulock’s in the black on that front.
It’s hard to believe that just last season the Islanders were (inexplicably) scratching Pulock from the lineup because they feared he’d be a defensive liability.
Well, he’s definitely not a defensive liability. He’s doing what’s asked of him in his own zone and despite the ongoing absurdity that is him not getting a chance to earn top PP unit minutes, he’s producing on offense too. It’s not just the shot - which he used to score the game-winner last night - it’s his ability to advance the puck up ice, whether via pass or carry.
So let’s take a look at this shift from last night’s game. Here it is:
It starts out with a really calm, composed play in his own zone to hold onto the puck and maneuver away from the incoming forechecker. This is a good example of a play Pulock would’ve handled differently early last season. If he was still worried about making a mistake that could could get him scratched, he’d likely slap this puck back into the neutral zone immediately.
Instead, he holds onto the puck, completes an accurate outlet pass into the neutral zone and then joins the rush, eventually sending a shot on goal. It’s not the most dangerous shot, but I’m fine with Pulock shooting from anywhere with that laser.
He gets back on defense and ultimately breaks up a Blue Jackets rush with an outstanding poke-check against star forward Artemi Panarin at the defensive zone blue line.
All around, this was beautifully-done by no. 6.
This shift illustrates the impact Pulock is starting to have at both ends of the ice. He’s finally established himself as an NHL defenseman and it’s been a pleasure to watch his confidence grow over the last two seasons.
Last night’s game was incredibly important to the Islanders’ playoff push and Ryan Pulock played a prominent role in helping them win.
See you next time.