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Islanders’ Boychuk personifies commitment, blocks shot with face

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The New York Islanders are fighting for a playoff spot and Johnny Boychuk appears ready to put his face on the line to make the promised land come April.

With the score 0-0 late in the first period in Saturday’s matinee between the Isles and the New York Rangers, Boychuk used his cheek to block what appeared to be a sure goal off the stick of Rangers forward Chris Kreider.

Here’s what commitment looks like:

The Isles ended up losing the game 2-1. They are still in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, level with the Buffalo Sabres in the second spot on 52 points. The Sabres play later on Saturday.

The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, sit one point adrift of both the Isles and the Sabres. The Canadiens also play on Saturday night.

The Isles may have not won the battle on Saturday, but the war for a playoff spot is still to be had. That’s the kind of block that fans will love, especially in early January.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

New York Islanders ’15-16 Outlook

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After years of slumming it in an aging building, the New York Islanders are moving to the snazzy Barclays Center in Brooklyn … and they’re bringing a stylish team with them.

Indeed, the Isles may boast the ideal mix of talent to resonate in The Land of the Hipsters, especially if head coach Jack Capuano sports these glasses.

Jack Capuano, Michael Grabner
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

(Sure, they’re not as natural a fit for Brooklyn as Dan Bylsma’s lids, but you can’t win them all.)

The Islanders’ potential seems like a mystery, at least beyond the likelihood of the team being fun to watch.

Could a division title be a possibility? Maybe a deep run?

You’d think that the group GM Garth Snow assembled should at least win a playoff series for the first time since 1993. The Isles boast a little of everything: an outstanding offense featuring John Tavares, a solid defense including Johnny Boychuk and steady goaltending.

If nothing else, maybe more casual hockey fans will realize just how special Tavares is. In the meantime, we have accounts like the one Jonathan Quick shared with The Players’ Tribune:

Just like with [Sidney] Crosby, Tavares doesn’t kill you with one thing, he kills you with how insanely balanced his game is in all aspects. Tavares can deke you, or roof a shot, or make a great pass, or if nothing is there, he’ll do the smartest thing and chip it in deep to live another day. He’s similar to Crosby in another way, too. He’s one of the most tenacious guys I’ve ever played against. A lot of guys that skilled might choose to work the perimeter and wait for their linemates to open up space for them. Tavares gets right into the dirty areas and mucks it up. You’ll see him score just as many greasy goals as pretty ones.

He could help the Islanders be a trendy choice in 2015-16.

Islanders’ biggest question: Will they finally make a deep run?

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The New York Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since they foiled Mario Lemieux’s quest for a three-peat.

In case that doesn’t provide you context (or if you’re a Penguins fan, memories of a bloodied Kevin Stevens), that came back in 1993.

Let’s skip the “insert list of historical events/amusing Geocities references since 1993” portion of the post and merely note that the Isles have seen seven first-round exits and 14 failed postseason bids since they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Eastern Conference Final.

One would assume that Islanders fans have learned to be patient over the years, and GM Garth Snow’s steady approach is really starting to pay off, even if some fans might feel a little antsy.

“We have a lot of players that still have term on their contracts,” Snow told NHL.com recently. “We’re looking for our younger players to take another step in the right direction, guys like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee … they’re all good, young players that had quality seasons and they’re just going to keep getting better.”

When you pour over the Islanders’ roster, it’s clear that the team boasts a little of everything. John Tavares is absolutely one of the best forwards in the league. Their defense may lack a Duncan Keith-type superstar, but Johnny Boychuk isn’t chopped liver. They may not have the most mainstream recognition, but Jaroslav Halak – Thomas Greiss ranks as one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL.

The possession stats were there, too, last season.

Just about every sign points to the Islanders possessing the tools to finally make a nice playoff run, now they just have to get there.

It could get a little messy if they provide an all-too-familiar feeling, albeit in a new building.

Bruins’ biggest question: Is the blue line good enough?

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It was no coincidence that the Bruins missed the playoffs after trading Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders in October.

Boychuk’s departure left a big hole in Boston’s top four, one that became even more pronounced when Zdeno Chara was injured a short time later.

Now consider that young Dougie Hamilton is gone from the B’s, too. Last season, Hamilton led all Boston d-men with 42 points in 72 games, while logging an average of 21:20 per game.

Minus Boychuk and Hamilton, the Bruins have been left with Chara, who’s 38, Dennis Seidenberg, who’s 34, plus Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller.

Of those nine defensemen, only two — Chara and Seidenberg, neither young anymore — have ever averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a full NHL season.

Hence, the ongoing speculation that GM Don Sweeney will sign a veteran free agent, someone like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, or Marek Zidlicky. (The B’s were believed to be in talks with Mike Green, before he signed with Detroit.)

But regardless if that happens or not, expect the Bruins to make some tweaks to their system.

“At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts,” Sweeney said, per the Boston Globe. “We need to be in motion a little bit.”

Of course, for any system to be successful, it needs the right horses. And as it stands today, the Bruins’ stable of defensemen is more questionable than it’s been in quite some time.

Related: Vote on whether the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window has closed

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

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Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap