It has been over seven weeks since defenseman Robin Salo skated in a game for the New York Islanders.
After starting the season as a starter alongside Scott Mayfield, Robin Salo lost his job to Sebastian Aho after four games and has, more often than not, served as the seventh defenseman for the last 23.
But with Tuesday’s injury to Adam Pelech, an upper-body injury that forced him to miss practice with no timetable on his return (listed as day-to-day), Salo is the only clear choice for New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert.
Lambert addressed why he placed Salo with Pulock following practice, making it clear that this pairing was not a guarantee Friday night against the New Jersey Devils.
“He’s a good complement to him because they both think well,” Lambert said. “Certainly, you know, him moving pucks for Ryan will help as well. So, we’ll see what happens if that happens.”
As for what he wants to see from Robin Salo if he comes into the lineup: “What we want out of him is a good first pass, good breakouts,[and] to make sure that he maintains his gaps and plays strong defensively […] a solid game, solid 200-foot game and make sure that he’s responsible defensively.”
In Salo’s four NHL games this season, there were strong showings but also showings that left more to be desired. However, Lambert said that Aho coming in and staying in was just due to Aho earning the opportunity.
“It wasn’t anything that Robin was or wasn’t doing. It’s just more Sebastian. He stepped up.”
For Salo, Pelech’s unfortunate injury gives him a monumental opportunity to prove himself.
“I mean, it’s a great opportunity,” Salo told NYI Hockey Now. “I mean, I haven’t played up here in a while, so of course, it’s going to be exciting to get in again, and of course, you’re always waiting for the next chance.”
“I’ll try to be as ready as I can if I get the chance.”
While Salo has patiently waited for his next opportunity, he has played a few games with the Bridgeport Islanders in the AHL. Bridgeport head coach Brent Thompson and Lambert have said that he’s looked solid in Bridgeport and has used those games to shake off the rush and stay in game shape.
“I think it’s a good thing I went down there and played a couple of games because it’s always good to play,” Salo said. “Wherever you play, you get the feel for the game, and you get the timing in, so I think it was great.”
The duo of Salo and Pulock have never played as a pairing. Salo played 21 games during the 2021-22 season, but that opportunity came due to Pulock missing significant time with a lower-body injury.
The duo has been on the ice together for one minute this season, as Friday night, if together, will be a new experience for both.
“We’ll just try to communicate, play hard, [and] simplify [things],” Ryan Pulock said. “Obviously, he hasn’t played in a little while. He got a couple of games in Bridgeport, but he hasn’t played up here in a couple of months, so just keep it simple early, especially, get back into it and just try to play a hard, simple game. Obviously, it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Pulock continued: “We had a good practice today. We got some reps in today, three-on-twos and different game situations. And you know, I think communication, whether that be before the game, just kind of briefing over some of the system stuff […] If we’re together tomorrow, we’ll just make the best of it.”
For Salo, playing with Pulock is just like playing with the other defenseman on the roster.
“It’s no different than playing with any other guys,” Salo told NYI Hockey Now. “Pulock is a really skilled guy. I mean, he’s really good at both ways. So I think it’s going to be great to play with him. I think he can do a really good job of helping me out there.”
NYI Hockey Now also spoke with New York Islanders captain Anders Lee about what he has seen from Robin Salo this season.
“Robin’s putting in a ton of work,” Lee said. “It’s not easy, being out of the lineup, and then having to go down to Bridgeport to get some ice [time], so I think for him, he’s done a phenomenal job of keeping his head and kept working and doing what he can to be ready. It can happen fast, and as you can see with Pelech going down, he’s [Salo] got to be ready to go tomorrow night.”
“So I know he is, and we’ve all seen his game. I mean, the way he sees the ice and can skate and move the puck, he’s a really heady player, so looking forward to seeing him.”