New years generally bring fresh beginnings. Unfortunately for the New York Islanders, it brought a plethora of injuries to their blue line.
Against the Buffalo Sabres on New Year’s Eve, Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk suffered an upper-body injury, and he ended up missing 11 games. It would have been more if not for the All-Star break.
Fortunately for New York, the Islanders were able to get by without Boychuk despite the fact that fellow defenseman Travis Hamonic also sat out a few games in January. But the Islanders don’t want to “just get by”. They would like to head into the playoffs with a head of stream and finally win a postseason series for the first time in 23 years.
Although the team managed to go 5-5-1 and did well in certain aspects in Boychuk’s absence, the Islanders are doing much better now with the 32-year-old defenseman back in the lineup.
Boychuk is third on the team in ice time and leads all Islanders in shorthanded minutes, so one would expect that the penalty kill would be the area where he would be missed the most. Strangely, that wasn’t the case. In the 11 games he was sidelined, New York posted a 86.5 penalty kill percentage. And that includes game where the New York penalty kill was missing Boychuk and Hamonic. With him in the lineup, the Islanders have killed 86.8 percent of their penalties.
It was 5-on-5 situations, though, where Boychuk was deeply missed.
New York allowed 3.11 goals per game in January, which was fifth-most in the league. The 32-year-old blue liner didn’t that entire month. In total, the Islanders permitted 3.09 scores per contest in the 11 games without Boychuk.
In the 16 games prior to his injury, New York allowed 2.2 goals per game, which helped them go 10-4-2. Over the seven games since his return, the Islanders have yielded 2.86 scores per game. That is still a bit high, but it is definitely an improvement.
Boychuk’s absence had an even bigger negative impact on the offense.
He has two goals and five points with a plus-four rating in his seven games since coming back to the ice. Boychuk leads all Islanders defensemen with five goals and is second among blue liners with 0.42 points per game. Additionally, he leads the entire team with a plus-13 rating.
It is a small sample size, but the team is averaging 3.7 goals per game since his return. Without Boychuk, the Islanders posted 2.9 tallies per game.
A big part of the turnaround offensively for New York has to be Boychuk’s puck possession. He has at least a 50.0 percent Corsi For percentage in five of the last seven games. To no one’s surprise, he is second among Islanders’ defensemen in shots during that time.
For the season, his Corsi For percentage is still below 50.0, but it is approaching that number at 49.5 percent.
But perhaps the most important part of Boychuk’s game are his intangibles. His calming presence since his return has helped New York retain a top-three spot in the Metropolitan division despite numerous off-the-ice distractions with the team.
“For me, it’s more of his leadership and what he can bring to the room,” Capuano said according to the New York Post. “He’s been there before, started in the minors, worked his way up, he’s won a Stanley Cup, he knows the grind that it takes. And he knows the accountability factor. Hey, it doesn’t matter if you hurt somebody’s feelings. And you need a guy like that.”
The Islanders start a crucial seven-game road trip on Friday, Feb. 19. Additionally, nine of the team’s next 10 games and 12 of their next 14 contests are away from the Barclay’s Center.
It is a tough road ahead that will likely go a long way to determining the Islanders fate in 2015-16, but the team has to be extremely relived to have Boychuk on the ice again and playing extremely well.