Though they have extra days of rest while their next opponent plays at least two more games, the New York Islanders’ challenge in the second round just got a little bit harder.
That means he is certainly out for the second round. What does that mean for the defense?
The left-shooting but fairly versatile Thomas Hickey is the likely replacement, but that doesn’t mean he slots right in on the pairing with Nick Leddy. When Hickey returned from his December injury and Boychuk was held out of some games after returning from his, the Islanders did experiment with that pairing.
It went neither exceedingly well nor was it exceedingly alarming (their shot share was about 50 percent, they had one goal for and one goal against), but it was a very small sample. Note that Hickey actually had more minutes with Devon Toews in far fewer games.
And that gets to the interesting decision here for Barry Trotz and his staff: Hickey has played a little bit with everyone this year, but mostly with two partners who are now part of established pairings the Islanders might not want to break up:
Via Corsica Hockey, here are his four partners this season:
- Scott Mayfield (35 GP, 261 minutes, 51.2 CF%, 5.54 Rel GF%)
- Ryan Pulock (32 GP, 190 minutes, 43 CF%, 16.47 Rel GF%)
- Devon Toews (7 GP, 86 minutes, 47.3 CF%, -37.5 Rel GF%)
- Nick Leddy (24 GP, 55 minutes, 49.5 CF%, -19.61 Rel GF%)
There are a lot of situational caveats with the above results (e.g. the very brief time with Toews includes 0 goals for and 3 goals against, which colors that relative GF number and also underlines the small ample, as well as the Islanders’ overall form during different stretches of the season) that we won’t get into here.
The main point is it’s been a very incomplete season for Hickey, who will (we assume) return to a lineup that is very different than the one he initially left in December.
Hickey saw his primary minutes this season before Toews was recalled and became an instant (and essential) regular, and before the Islanders reformed the Pelech-Pulock partnership to become their true top pairing capable of frustrating the Penguins’ superstar.
So the choice in front of Trotz and staff now: Do they mess with what has been working by tinkering with the Pelech-Pulock (very unlikely) or Toews-Mayfield pairings? Or do they simply slot the left-shooting Hickey into the right-shooting Boychuk’s spot, possibly revising how both of them play and/or even reducing that pairing’s overall minutes?
Thankfully, they have time to plot it out or even try a few options during practice before the games rsume. Whatever they decide, it’s going to be a Thing To Watch as the next series plays out.