When the Islanders arrived at the Nassau Coliseum on January 2nd for their game against the New Jersey Devils, they were sailing right along with a record of 25-10-3 that included a 17-game point streak. But before that game, defenseman Adam Pelech suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury while playing soccer outside the Islanders’ dressing room. The injury was supposed to sideline Pelech for the rest of the season and his absence was felt during the second half of the season.
Without Pelech, the Islanders were 10-13-7 while allowing 3.03 goals per game as compared to 2.61 goals per game allowed before his injury. The Islanders finished the COVID-19 shortened regular season with seven straight losses and that’s when the coronavirus caused the NHL to suspend the campaign. But as it turned out, that injury to Pelech was not season-ending because the NHL is resuming after a more than four-month layoff and when the league announced its return to play format, Pelech was cleared to play and made his return in Wednesday night’s 2-1 exhibition win over the Rangers in Toronto.
“It means a lot to us,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “You saw when he went down (that) he leaves a pretty big hole in our lineup. “He looked pretty seamless jumping in there. He made a couple of good reads and good exits and defended well on the PK. He looked pretty set for the playoffs which is a really good sign for us.”
The Islanders will begin their best of five Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Florida Panthers on Saturday and they will do so with arguably their best defenseman who would never have had a chance to return had the season not been interrupted because of COVID-19. In his first game in almost seven months, other than intrasquad games during training camp 2.0, Pelech was solid on Wednesday night with 18 shifts for a total of 15 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time.
Pelech, who was credited with one hit and one block in the game, missed the final 30 games of the regular season but certainly looked like the player he was before the injury in his return.
“You wouldn’t have known that was his first game in seven months,” said defenseman Andy Greene who the Islanders acquired from the Devils back in February to try and help fill the void left by Pelech’s injury. “He’s just steady back there. He’s really poised. He just makes everything look smooth and easy and like I said you couldn’t tell it was his first game (in seven months).
Greene, the Devils’ former captain, was paired with Noah Dobson as Trotz decided to dress eight defensemen in the game so there could be some decisions to make on the blueline before game one against the Panthers on Saturday. But when it comes to Adam Pelech, there is no decision to make. He has fully recovered from the Achilles injury and he certainly looks like the player he was before that freak injury back in January.
Many Islanders fans were probably a little nervous a short time before Wednesday night’s game when the team the NHL on NBC’s Twitter account posted a video of some Isles players playing soccer in a hallway of the Scotiabank Arena, but it looked like Pelech was given a red card before that match even began. And when the hockey game started, number three in white looked the part of a really good NHL defenseman.