CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The roll of the dice paid off.
The Charlottetown Islanders coaching staff felt a couple of its defence pairs were getting stale. They decided to break up the Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph-Saku Vesterinen top pair during the final 10 games of the regular season. Overage defenceman Olivier Desjardins joined Joseph, and Vesterinen paired up with Taylor Egan while the Hunter Drew-Brendon Clavelle unit remained intact.
Joseph and Vesterinen had played the majority of their time with the Isles together, but the coaches felt a change was worth exploring.
“We didn’t like either P.O. or Saku’s game,” head coach Jim Hulton said Tuesday. “Together, individually, they had moments where they were OK, but they just seemed out of synch.”
Initially, the idea was give it a try as a different look, but it clicked.
It has allowed Joseph more freedom to jump into the play while Vesterinen and Egan have played some of their best hockey together.
“It’s worked out good. It’s a mobile third pair D right now,” Hulton said. “And again, you go back to depth being such a big key, if you have Saku on your so-called bottom pair that's a pretty darn good third pair.”
The key to the move has been Joseph’s elevated play down the stretch and through the first two rounds of the playoffs. He and Desjardins, a defence-first, shot-blocker, get the majority of the tough assignments, but the stay-at-home veteran gives Joseph the ability to read and react more.
“He knows he can be that fourth guy coming on the rush, which makes him so highly effective,” Hulton said. “There’s no hesitation because he knows he has that safety valve of Desjardins back there. They've done a splendid job against top units.”
And that will need to continue for the Islanders to have success against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the semifinal.
“It’s nice knowing you have experience and skill back there,” Hulton added.