There understandably has been some temptation for Islanders head coach Lane Lambert to shuffle his defensive pairings around considering how things have gone lately.
“We’ve talked about that a little bit in a couple of different areas,” Lambert said. “We’ve had some success breaking pucks out and we’ve had some struggles breaking pucks out. A lot of times it’s not just breaking it out… it’s when we regain it in the defensive zone where we’re not making the next play and we spend a little bit more time on our D zone.
“We look at all different options all the time. It’s a great question.”
The greater question is how can Islanders can actually improve their defense.
It wasn’t solely on them during Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, but they didn’t necessarily help goaltender Semyon Varlamov out much either, who made just 21 saves on 27 shots. The Islanders actually outshot the Bruins 28-27 and held the edge in high-danger chances, 10-8.
But there has been a glaring problem in the Islanders’ defensive ranks as of late. They’ve allowed 23 goals in their last five games — an alarming average of 4.6 goals per game in which they’ve gone 1-2-2 and collected just four of a possible 10 points.
According to Statmuse, the Islanders’ 592 giveaways this season rank fourth-most in the NHL. In their last five games alone, they’ve committed 48 turnovers with 23 coming in an ugly 6-5 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 9.
There’s plenty of concern behind the No. 1 defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
“We’re not going to change Pelech and Pulock. They’re our shutdown pair,” Lambert said.
Alexander Romanov, who the Islanders traded a first-rounder for over the summer, has struggled in the defensive zone. Originally acquired to be Noah Dobson’s long-time partner on the second unit, he’s been demoted to work with Scott Mayfield.
Both Romanov and Mayfield are tied for the ninth-most giveaways amongst NHL defensemen this season with 50. Dobson, who has worked with a rotating cast of AHL call-ups ranging from Sebastian Aho to Parker Wotherspoon, to Samuel Bolduc, is tied for 36th most with 39, according to Moneypuck.
The 22-year-old Romanov has been billed as a puck-moving, good-skating defenseman but has struggled to break the puck out of his zone when he gets possession. The veteran Mayfield, who is a free agent and potential trade-deadline chip hasn’t provided much of a support system given some of his questionable play near his own goal, too.
Dobson, 23, has been forced to be the veteran after spending his first three full NHL seasons working with highly-decorated, well-regarded veterans in Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara. It’s a sizable ask to suddenly be the No. 3 defenseman and captain of a pairing that lacks well-rounded NHL skill and experience at such a young age.
“In terms of the other two pairings, there’s been a lot of good things from both of those pairings,” Lambert said. “But there’s always a possibility of maybe moving someone in and out.”