Just three weeks ago, Noah Dobson was a healthy scratch.
Coach Barry Trotz sat the 21-year old defenseman for a mid-November game against the Lightning, saying: “Noah has been a little bit inconsistent. We allowed him to try and work through that a little bit.”
Lately, though, Dobson has been one of the most consistent things about the Islanders. Not only has he stayed in the lineup as his teammates were going down with COVID-19 and injuries — save for a lower-body injury that kept him out against the Rangers on Nov. 24 — but Dobson’s game has taken a major step forward.
He’s been a strong two-way presence, driving offense for the Islanders and coming up big to tie Sunday night’s game with a rocket past Marc-Andre Fleury with 2.3 seconds to go in regulation. The Islanders fell short in overtime against the Blackhawks, but in 26:14 of ice time — the second-straight game in which he has played a career-high in minutes — Dobson continued to show what he could do.
“Sometimes you’re forced to grow up really quick in tough situations and I think he has,” Trotz said. “He’s finding out that, ‘I don’t have to be guarded against Patrick Kane. I can play against a good player like Patrick Kane or [Jonathan] Toews, anybody like that.’ ”
Dobson’s goal on Sunday night was his first of the season and his second point in two games. He also picked up his fifth assist of the year in Saturday’s overtime loss against Detroit.
“I think I definitely had a few chances out there tonight,” Dobson said after the game Sunday. “I think just trying to focus on being hard in the D-zone and killing plays, and [trying] to get up on the play. Help the forwards out and create some offense.”
Dobson and Sebastian Aho have also played up top on the Islanders’ power-play units. Up until Saturday, the team was struggling on the man-advantage, but it has netted three goals in two games since, with better puck movement and more chances going the Islanders’ way.
“You’re gonna have to get some production from your back end,” Trotz said. “We always talk about going at the right time. And they have. I think that comes with confidence. When you’ve got a lot of people out of the lineup and a lot of defensemen out of the lineup, everybody’s just sorta staying home because you know that you’re a little bit limited.
“But now that we’re getting people back, hopefully you’re seeing us play a little bit more like we like to play, the way we expect to play.”
Trotz attributed the change in Dobson’s game to an uptick in both confidence and comprehension.
“He’s getting a better understanding of all those moments where risk and reward are balanced,” Trotz said. “A team like Chicago, it’s not necessarily what you get all the time, it’s what you leave them. If you leave them a turnover, they’re gonna transition and they’re gonna make you pay. That’s what he’s understanding much better.”
The Islanders are still playing without a complete set of defensemen as Ryan Pulock recovers from a lower-body injury. But Zdeno Chara, Adam Pelech and Andy Greene returning from COVID-19 protocol has allowed Dobson to play with Greene, his intended partner. The results have been good.
“I’ve just tried to elevate and step up and I think the ‘D’ corps as a whole, that’s what we gotta do,” Dobson said. “We’re missing a couple key guys back there, so just continue to do that and play with confidence.”