UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The arrival of Johnny Boychuk on the eve of the regular season meant something to the Islanders, something more than he could bring on the ice.
Not only did Boychuk — along with fellow trade acquisition Nick Leddy from Chicago — shore up the Islanders’ defense, but Boychuk’s veteran presence was expected to mean something on a young team that hadn’t experienced the winning environment of the Bruins.
Nearly four months into Boychuk’s tenure on Long Island, that has been the case.
Asked prior to Thursday’s game what Boychuk has brought to his team, Islanders coach Jack Capuano said, “The accountability amongst the guys. I think he comes from an organization where they have real good leaders, an older group over there. They understand that Claude [Julien] didn’t have to go in all the time and send the message.
“When you start to realize that as a team, not only do coaches hold players accountable but the players start to hold themselves accountable, I think you have success. I’ve seen that with Johnny. I know he doesn’t wear a letter on our hockey club, but obviously every day, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, he leads by example.”
Boychuk was shipped out of Boston for salary cap reasons, set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Bruins were not likely to be able to re-sign him, so general manager Peter Chiarelli got what he could (two draft picks) in a trade that even he admitted made them worse in the short term.
However, it has definitely made the Islanders better, with New York near the top of the Eastern Conference.
“I knew that coming here I’d have more responsibility,” Boychuk said. “After the first two practices, then I knew what kind of team we have and how good we actually were. After the first couple of games, then you really knew how good we were.”
But as good as Boychuk has been for the Islanders, Julien said the Bruins have turned the page on their former defenseman. It has been half a season. They have moved on and have concerned themselves with their own team.
“He was a good player, he was a good person in the dressing room, but I think too many people underestimate what our dressing room is now,” said Julien. “We still have a pretty strong dressing room.”
All mixed up
Julien, who has been more willing this season to mix lines, did it again on Thursday. Early in the first period, he took David Pastrnak off the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, subbing Reilly Smith for him. Loui Eriksson moved up to play with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Pastrnak rounded out the Chris Kelly-Carl Soderberg line.
“You could see [Capuano] wanted to put [John] Tavares against Krejci’s line because Pastrnak was there, a young player, and wanted to take advantage of that,” Julien said. “So I had to tweak those lines early, try and keep him away. As the game went on, [Capuano] didn’t match up as much. I thought our lines at that point were going well enough that I didn’t need to go back to the old ones.”
This could be it
The game marked the Bruins’ only regular-season trip to Nassau Coliseum. Though they could return in the playoffs, it could be the last trip for the Bruins before the Islanders move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
Nassau Coliseum holds many memories for the Islanders and their fans, and for at least one member of the Bruins.
Zdeno Chara was drafted by the Islanders in 1996 and spent his first four seasons with them before he was traded to the Senators.
Chara scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 29, 1999 — exactly 16 years before Thursday’s game — at Nassau Coliseum. His first NHL game, though, was played in Detroit.
“It was pretty cool,” Chara said. “Exciting. You always remember the first game, first goal, anything the first you probably remember. Yeah, it was very special. It’s a good memory.”
Praise for Brodeur
Martin Brodeur officially announced his retirement on Thursday. Julien, who coached Brodeur in New Jersey, said of the NHL’s all-time wins leader, “All the records he’s broken, what he’s done for the Jersey organization. He’s got three Stanley Cups, was a big part of those. He was a very durable goaltender. Not too many goaltenders could play as many games per year as he did and still be a good playoff contender. The time I was there, I didn’t see him slack off in practice, either. He loved to compete, competed hard all the time. I think that’s one of the reasons he was a great goaltender.” . . . Jaroslav Halak got the start in goal for the Islanders. Former Bruins backup goalie Chad Johnson has started just 10 games for the Islanders this season, with a 3.38 goals-against average and .870 save percentage. He made 21 starts for the Bruins in 2013-14 with a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage . . . The Bruins’ scratches were Matt Bartkowski and Jordan Caron.