A week ago, when asked to explain his hesitation in changing up the Islanders’ defensive pairings, coach Lane Lambert said breaking up Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock was a nonstarter.
“We’re not going to change Pelly and Pully,” he said. “They’re our shutdown pair.”
Indeed, they have been. Because of how much Lambert trusts them, Pelech and Pulock have been the Islanders’ most-used defensive pair this season, despite Pelech missing more than a month with injury. They regularly match up against the opposition’s top line and have a well-earned reputation as one of the best pairs in the league.
So it was surprising that Lambert broke them up Wednesday. Pelech skated with Scott Mayfield, Pulock went with Alexander Romanov, and the Islanders used that configuration again on Friday against the Kings.
“I think you look at each game and each individual game and potentially helping other guys as well in just mixing the pairs up,” Lambert said Friday morning before keeping them apart for Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Kings. “We felt that there was a necessity to mix things around and see where it went from there.”
In short, the thought was that with Mayfield and Romanov, in particular, struggling to break the puck out, the Islanders could be a little more balanced this way. In their 2-1 win Wednesday over the Jets, that worked fine. It will be interesting, though, to see if the Islanders stick with that lineup against teams with more top-heavy forward configurations or on the road, where they won’t be in control of matchups.
Lambert didn’t treat it as an inevitability when asked whether he wants to get Pelech and Pulock back together at some point.
“If you watch the entire game, those guys do play together. They get mixed around,” he said. “And when they are [starting] together, sometimes they don’t play together in games. It’s just a matter of whatever scenario and whatever situation. Matching the defense and those guys is more situational and circumstantial than it is, ‘Oh, this guy’s with this guy all the time.’ ”
Injured forward Josh Bailey skated with the Islanders on Friday morning, but did not return to the lineup. Lambert said it was too early to know whether he would accompany the group for games at Winnipeg and Minnesota over the weekend.
“I think he’s day to day,” Lambert said. “And we’ll just see where it goes from here, but it’s good to see him back on the ice.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (upper body) has yet to resume skating.