Noah Dobson providing Islanders with much-needed blue line spark

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Noah Dobson’s face burst into a smile as Anthony Beauvillier and Mat Barzal met him near the boards. The rest of the Islanders would soon follow, as Dobson basked in the moment.

“It definitely feels great,” Dobson said once things calmed down following the Islanders’ 3-2 win over the Oilers on Saturday in which he delivered the winner.

It’s also a feeling Dobson is getting more used to. The soon-to-be 22-year-old defenseman came into the month of December without a goal this season. He’s since scored five, becoming the Islanders’ defenseman most adept at getting the puck forward and driving offensive play.

The transformation has been stark — and badly needed. At the beginning of the season, the Islanders badly lacked production from their defensive group, which was then decimated by COVID-19. Ryan Pulock, the group’s biggest star, is still hurt. Someone had to step up.

Dobson, playing just his second full year in the NHL, has done so.

In particular, that has come down to confidence.

Noah Dobson has stepped up his game when the Islanders needed it most.
Corey Sipkin

“He’s skating, he’s moving the puck, he’s transporting the puck,” associate coach Lane Lambert said. “But for me I think it’s just because of his confidence level. He’s alway had that in him, but I think mentally he’s really taken it to the next level.”

Zdeno Chara, Dobson’s partner on defense, has noticed the same thing. Though the 44-year-old Chara said he treats everyone the same, regardless of age, it’s no secret that the Islanders paired the two together in part so Chara could mentor Dobson. Chara said Monday that he’s encouraged Dobson to use the ability that got him here: the skating and the hockey sense in particular.

That was on display in Thursday’s game against Buffalo, when Dobson skated in on the rush with Josh Bailey and Barzal. He made the right pass to Bailey, setting up a Barzal goal.

“He executed the play systematically, we would call that four and three, a real systematic type of play and he did,” head coach Barry Trotz said following that game. “And that’s what you want. I think he’s played with a lot of poise.”

It’s the sort of play that Dobson might not have made earlier in the season. But his game has reached another level lately. Moments like that are where it becomes evident, but it also shows in the numbers.

Among Islanders defensemen, Dobson leads in goals, assists, points and expected goals per 60 minutes. His shot has proven a weapon, and he’s helped unlock an Islanders power play that struggled for the first part of the season.

“I think that confidence has a lot to do with your success,” Chara said. “You can see in his game that he’s obviously making some plays. Being there for us in crucial times. So he’s using his hockey sense, his skating ability, obviously he’s playing really well right now.”

Against the Oilers on Saturday, he led the team with 24:54 of ice time, and recorded his second-straight multi-point game. Before that, the last time Dobson had two points in a game was Jan. 21, 2021 against the Devils.

“He’s been playing great lately,” Adam Pelech said. “He’s obviously a super-talented player. We’ve known that since the first time I saw him play. It’s really all coming together for him.”

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