COLUMBUS, Ohio — The most telling stat of Noah Dobson’s season so far is not the five-game point streak he will take into Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets, nor the career-high 27:42 he played in a Thursday night win over the Senators in which he also scored the game-winning goal.
It is instead 52.17 — the percentage of shifts at five-on-five that Dobson has started in the offensive zone so far.
That is not necessarily an indicator of how Dobson is playing, but it tells you how the Islanders’ coaching staff is using the defenseman.
Last season, the same number was 68.13 percent — an indicator that Lane Lambert wanted Dobson playing in his own zone as little as possible.
So far this year, Lambert is trusting Dobson with harder shifts and it is paying off.
“I think he’s just more and more assertive in his defensive zone,” Lambert said. “And he’s gaining that level of confidence where he feels he’s able to separate and create separation from guys from the puck. And as a result, he’s breaking pucks out clean and he’s confident when he has the puck on his stick.”
Some of the increase in minutes, particularly on the penalty kill, has been a necessity with Scott Mayfield out of the lineup.
But it is to Dobson’s credit that he has seized the opportunity.
Last season, remember, Dobson fell from the second pair to the third, with Mayfield jumping into the top-four.
When Lou Lamoriello said during the offseason that Mayfield would not be in the top four, it was fair to wonder whether that would come to fruition.
Regardless of Mayfield’s health, it’s clear right now that Dobson — who has played on the top pair next to Adam Pelech — is doing just fine with what is being asked of him.
That now includes minutes against the other team’s top line, which meant on Thursday matching up with Dominik Kubalik, Tim Stutzle and Claude Giroux.
In the minutes where Dobson was on the ice against that line, the Islanders outscored, out-chanced and outshot the Senators.
Another good sign in a game full of them.
Another reason he will not be coming off the top pair anytime soon.
Last year’s developmental stagnation made Dobson the object of criticism from fans.
But the upward course he previously had been charting looks very much back on schedule.
“I’m feeling good,” Dobson said Thursday. “Wasn’t pretty out there at times tonight. Couple mistakes here and there, but I think the main thing is, we stuck with it. Happy to contribute to a team win there in the third.”
Dobson’s impact has been most obvious in the area where he’s always been most comfortable: the offensive side of the puck.
He picked up a secondary assist in addition to the game-winner on Thursday and was at his best when the first line of Anders Lee, Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal was also on the ice.
“When he gets up in the play like that, he creates so much confidence for us and he’s moving and finding holes, jumping up in the play like that, especially on the last goal,” Horvat said. “He doesn’t get the opportunity if he doesn’t move his feet up the ice.”
Even in the short two weeks that have made up this season so far, Dobson’s confidence seems to have taken a jump from the first couple games, where he looked tentative in his own zone.
Being asked to do more has brought out his best.
“He’s playing in every key situation right now,” Horvat said. “He’s penalty-killing, he’s on the power play, he’s playing big minutes five-on-five, too, against other team’s top lines. He’s kind of doing it all right now.”