It may only be November, but there was a playoff-type atmosphere at the Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday night. That was because former Islanders captain John Tavares was back in town with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Throughout the night, Tavares heard plenty of boos from Islanders Country but there was a huge cheer at one point for a play involving Tavares.
That was when he was on the receiving end of a bit hit from Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield that sent Tavares falling to the ice. The play was indicative of how Mayfield has blossomed into a terrific young defenseman, especially since the arrival of Head Coach Barry Trotz and his staff last season.
“He’s grown in terms of his game in a lot of areas,” said Trotz after practice Friday. “I think he’s got a clear, defined understanding of the type of defenseman that he is. I think before we got here, I think it was a little bit vague to him. I think he’s got it down now.”
Mayfield was taken by the Islanders in the 2nd round (34th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut for the Isles playing five games during the 2013-14 season. He played 25 games in 2016-17 season before becoming a regular in 2017-18. He had two goals and ten assists over 47 games and his play earned him a new five-year contract extension that he signed in January of 2018.
He was a top-six NHL defenseman getting a regular shift.
“When you’re playing with confidence and you’re in the lineup, it’s easy to get in a rhythm,” said Mayfield a native of St. Louis. “It’s kind of tough when you’re sitting out every other game or every third game whatever it was for a little bit.”
But his first full season in the NHL was cut short when he missed 23 games because of a broken ankle suffered while doing something he does best…blocking a shot. He was a big part of the Islanders going from worst in goals allowed in 2017-18 to number one last season as he led the team with 159 blocked shots, 12th best in the NHL.
“I came back with new management and new eyes looking at you and I was able to earn a spot and it’s been good,” said Mayfield. “It’s been good for me personally and I think I’ve helped the team. That’s always been part of my game. We have a full team commitment on blocking shots and I think that’s huge when we’re eliminating shots that get to the net.”
Mayfield provides the Islanders with a solid physical presence on the blueline. He understands what his role is, but once in a while he does get an opportunity to jump into the offensive play. Last year, he scored 4 goals to go along with 15 assists and 19 points in 79 games. This season, he has chipped into the offensive effort with two assists and a couple of goals including the go-ahead goal in the third period of last Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers at Barclays Center.
He knows he’s not Denis Potvin, but once in a while it’s nice to light the lamp.
“That’s part of the new NHL is the D jumping up into the play,” said Mayfield. “D are getting more points and it’s important. I think that’s big but for me it’s always been make sure that the D zone is taken care of and make sure physically I’m there blocking shots and winning puck battles. It’s been great with (Devon Toews) who can get the puck up the ice. I can get it over to him and then there are other times where I can jump up and create a little offense myself.”
The mark of a solid defensive defenseman is the ability to know when to jump into the offense and when it’s better to just stay at home and worry about your own end of the ice. There were times in the past, even early last season, when Mayfield may not have made the right choices, but he has certainly evolved into an important part of the Islanders success.
“He’s making better decisions,” said Trotz. “I think when we first got here last year there were a lot of decisions made that weren’t productive for our success. He’s gotten those out of his game, he’s reliable, he’s consistent, he’s a battler, and he can play a lot of different situations for us. He has a real clear understanding of how he can be effective in the National Hockey League and he’s done a really good job adapting.”
The Islanders have been confident in using Mayfield on the penalty kill, in shut-down situations, and being on the ice late in games protecting a lead. He’s a big reason why the Islanders have been able to limit scoring chances by their opponents and in turn his play as helped the Islanders during their current 13-game points streak (12-0-1) heading into Saturday’s game with the Flyers in Philadelphia.
The Islanders are winning, but Mayfield and company know that there’s still room for improvement.
“I think we know we have stuff to fix,” said Mayfield. “I don’t think we’ve played our best yet. That’s what our focus is on. Take it one game at a time and just keep racking up the points because these points are just as important as points at the end of the season. We’re happy but we’re definitely not content with it. We’re just working hard every day and getting better.”
With a record of 13-3-1, Mayfield and the Islanders reside in second place in the Metropolitan Division, five points behind the Washington Capitals who are also on a 13-game point streak. Right behind the Islanders are the Flyers who have also been playing well. Philadelphia is 6-2-2 in their last ten games and they’re just four points behind the Islanders.
So that sets up an important contest on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center against a Flyers team that the Islanders beat 5-3 on October 27th at the Coliseum.
“It will be a hard-hitting game…a physical game,” said Mayfield. “It always is against them. They have a couple of skill guys up front and D that like to jump up into the play. We just have to play our game and stick to our systems and just go out there and keep our streak alive because that’s what’s going to keep our confidence going and keep playing well.”
Scott Mayfield has worked hard to become a mainstay on the Islanders’ blueline. The former University of Denver star cut his teeth in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for a few years and overcame a significant injury once he became a regular with the Islanders. He’s plays a huge role with his physical game and his ability to block shots. Players on other teams now have to be cognizant of when number 24 is on the ice for the Islanders.
John Tavares learned that the hard way on Wednesday night.