Coming into the season, it was easy to see the Islanders had defensive depth. It was not quite so predictable that they would be getting this kind of production from their third pair.
Scott Mayfield, on the heels of an injury that saw him miss the final six weeks of last season, is already threatening a career high in scoring, with four goals in 17 games. Sebastian Aho, who was beaten out by Robin Salo for a spot out of training camp, has blown away expectations, earning back a place as an everyday defenseman with smooth two-way play and a consistent offensive threat.
The top four — Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, followed by Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson — was perhaps the most obvious strength of this team. Mayfield and Aho, though, have earned a 51.06 expected goals percentage, with the Islanders out-chancing and outshooting opponents with them on the ice, per Natural Stat Trick.
“It’s been good,” Mayfield said Saturday, following a win over the Blue Jackets in which he and Aho both had two points. “The communication’s really good. We’re making some clean plays exiting the zone.
“[Aho’s] such a good skater. The biggest thing is just feeding off each other. Physical, hard in front. Get him the puck, let him move his feet and make the play.”
Mayfield’s game has never been offensively inclined — part of the reason he’s on pace for career highs is because he’s never scored more than five goals nor assisted on more than 15 in a season — but he’s shown a new inclination to get up on the play this season. As for Aho, his lack of killer errors in the defensive zone is a needed development, clearing the way for his offensive ability to shine.
“The way Seabass [Aho] was jumping up on the ice, Scott was holding the puck in on the walls and creating offensively, that’s just the game now,” Zach Parise said. “You have to attack as a five-man unit. And so when our defensemen are able to do that, to keep the puck in, make those turnovers in the neutral zone, I think that makes us much more dangerous.”
Nikita Soshnikov was assigned to AHL Bridgeport on Wednesday after clearing waivers. Without a corresponding call-up, the Islanders will carry just 13 forwards and 22 players into a road trip that starts Thursday against the Predators and continue to Dallas and Toronto.