When Ryan Pulock scored at 1:13 of overtime on Sunday night to give the Islanders a 3-2 win over the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, there was the initial excitement from the team and the fans about the victory and the two huge points that keeps the Isles tied with the Capitals atop the East Division. But in the seconds that followed the game-winner, the excitement from the players shifted to their sheer joy for Pulock who had finally scored his first goal of the season and it came in dramatic fashion.
Pulock slammed the glass after he beat Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin for the game-winner and then his teammates mobbed him knowing that his quest to finally find the back of the net was over.
“They were maybe more excited than I was which is kind of tough,” said Pulock. “Throughout my career, I’ve been able to score a little bit and to go through a little slump like that, it’s tough. As the games wore on, it got tougher but I just needed to get that one obviously it came at a big moment and I’m excited about that.”
Pulock had been having a terrific season even without scoring a goal until Sunday night. He now has that goal to go along with 14 assists for 15 points but perhaps the most telling sign that he has taken his game to a new level is how he is playing at both ends of the ice. Pulock is more than just a defenseman with a 100 mile an hour slapshot. He’s also become a rock defensively and his plus 15 rating is proof of that.
“It’s his best season by far for me the way he’s defended and his decision making,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “The one area I think he takes a lot of pride in is he’s been able to score some goals with the shot over the course of his career and this year he’s been snake-bitten a little bit. To get it as a game winner, that’s huge for him and that’s good.”
What had made Pulock’s scoring drought easier for him to handle is that the Islanders have been winning all season and are battling the Capitals and Penguins for first place in the East Division. If the Islanders weren’t having success as a team, Pulock may have been more down in the dumps over not scoring any goals. But by doing other things to help the Islanders win, Pulock continues to evolve into one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League.
“This year, I’ve liked my game,” said Pulock. “I think there’s a lot of areas that I’ve brought my game to another level and obviously the team having success that makes it a lot easier. I want to score but when you’re winning every night and you’re helping in other ways it doesn’t matter as much.”
As a defenseman, Pulock’s primary job is to do his part in keeping the puck out of the Islanders net and that part of his game has blossomed ever since Trotz took over as Head Coach before the 2018-19 season.
But, the back of Pulock’s hockey card will tell you that scoring goals has been a big part of his game throughout his career. In his first full season back in 2017-18, Pulock scored 10 goals to go along with 22 assists for 32 points. In 2018-19, Pulock had 9 goals and 28 assists for 22 points. And then last season, Pulock hit double-digits in goals for the second time in his career tallying 10 times along with 25 assists for 35 points. He also added 2 goals and 8 assists for 10 points in the playoffs and helped the Islanders reach the Eastern Conference Final.
But this season, Pulock was not able to light the lamp until Sunday night.
“He was squeezing it,” said Trotz. “He was trying to put the puck through the end boards. He was trying so hard. I think this will just get him to relax a little bit. His shot is always dangerous…his wrist shot…his slap shot…it’s always dangerous.”
And even though Pulock never showed his frustration to his teammates and coaches, they all knew it was on his mind and that’s why you saw their excitement when he finally scored and that it came at such a big moment.
“He was able to mask everything,” said Islanders defenseman Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “You couldn’t tell. When he was around in the room, he just wanted the team to win. He’s really a team-first guy and we could really feel it and sense it so just for us to see that goal (Sunday) and to see him this happy, everyone was so pumped for him.”
“It obviously takes it off my mind but at the same time I just have to keep playing my game, keep shooting pucks, and just keep playing the same way,” said Pulock. “I think mentally it helps a little bit. I don’t have to think about that as much.”
Before Sunday night, defensemen Adam Pelech, Nick Leddy, Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield and even Andy Greene had scored goals for the Islanders. If you said before the season that all of those players would have found the back of the net before Ryan Pulock 42 games into the season, you might have been laughed at. But now that he has finally scored a goal and the Islanders are not only challenging for first place in the division but also in the hunt to win the President’s Trophy as the number one overall team in the NHL, Pulock can take a deep breath and relax but also continue to focus on the other parts of his game that have played a huge role in the Islanders’ success.
That goal not only brought excitement and relief to Ryan Pulock and the rest of the Islanders organization, but it also brought smiles to the faces of Islanders fans. It didn’t hurt that it was an overtime winner against the Rangers!