Trotz setting tone early with Islanders
New head coach stresses ‘the details’ in first week of camp
The New York Islanders gave up the most shots (35.6 per game) and goals (293) in the league on their way to missing the playoffs for a second straight season in 2017-18.
New Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, fresh off leading the Capitals to their first-ever Stanley Cup title last year, isn’t used to anything resembling the Isles’ sieve-like defense.
And he doesn’t plan on becoming acclimated with it this season.
“Today was all about trying to create a little bit of a foundation and identity and find out which guys are willing to battle and compete,” Trotz said after holding his initial training camp practice with the team last Thursday at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Long Island.
“I don’t think there’s a guy here who said it was easy.”
During Trotz’s four years in Washington, the Capitals allowed the second-lowest goals-per-game total (2.45) and boasted the NHL’s sixth-best penalty kill (82.6 percent).
If the Brooklyn-based franchise he inherited is going to return to the playoffs for the first time since its inaugural campaign in our fair borough, Trotz knows that paying attention to all the tiny details will be key to turning around this seemingly defenseless unit.
And even more importantly, the Isles will have to defend their end of the ice with a hunger and desire that hasn’t been seen around Barclays Center in recent years.
“We weren’t afraid to work today, which I was really happy about,” Trotz noted.
“We learned that we weren’t afraid to compete, against ourselves or against someone. And we learned about the importance of details and accountability in some areas.”
Bouncing back from a season in which they began nosediving out of playoff contention in December and never seriously challenged thereafter will doubtlessly be an arduous task for the Isles, especially with former team captain John Tavares in Toronto.
But Trotz, backed by new team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, saw some bright spots early in camp and during New York’s first two preseason games, Sunday’s 3-0 win over Philadelphia at the Nassau Coliseum and Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Thus far, the players are buying into their new coach’s philosophy, one that has helped Trotz amass eight 100-plus point seasons, including each of the last four in Washington, during his nearly two-decade career on an NHL bench.
“Last year we weren’t great on [the defensive] side of the puck and we need to be better for us to win,” veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk said.
“[Trotz] brings experience. I think everyone is going to be on board. It’s just a positive change.”
One of the biggest positives on the Isles roster going forward is reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal, who earned NHL Rookie of the Year honors by piling up team highs of 63 assists and 85 points in his debut campaign.
Though Barzal will likely be expected to pick up some of the scoring slack left by front-line center Tavares, he is also going to have to buckle up along the blue line and help the Isles tighten their defense.
“Just details,” Barzal told the Isles’ website of Trotz’s message on day one of camp.
“Stopping at the net, backchecking hard and finishing the drills,” he added. “To be a championship team, you need those championship habits. He knows what it takes. I’m going to listen to him as much as I can.”
Trotz, the fifth winningest coach in NHL history with a 762-568-134-60 record, should instill instant confidence into his new players.
But if they don’t reward that confidence with results on the ice, it will more than likely be the players that will change rather than the coach, who received a reported $20 million, five-year pact this summer.
“Attention to detail, structure and hard work,” forward Josh Bailey said of his initial impressions of Trotz.
“For the most part we did that. There are going to be some instances where we still get familiar with some drills, but all in all, a tough day, but a good day.”
For Trotz, his first set of practices and exhibitions with the Isles were more of a feeling-out process.
“There was more life lessons than there was necessarily a systematic approach,” Trotz said.
“If you’re going to do something good, it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be tough.”
Isle Have Another: Trotz wasn’t very pleased with the way the Isles played in Monday night’s rematch with the Flyers in Philadelphia. After cruising to a 3-0 win at NYCB Live Sunday, New York managed just one goal, off the stick of newly signed winger Mike Sislo, during a 3-1 loss to the Flyers. “I didn’t think we were hard on the puck and we were easy to play against,” Trotz said. “[We made] bad decisions. We were backing up instead of being on our toes. Some guys got a little nervous and gave them way too much space.” … Thomas Greiss, who is the Isles’ tentative starter in net, gave up all three goals Monday, including two on the power-play, while stopping just 10 shots. Jeremy Smith, newly signed to a two-way AHL/NHL deal, stopped all seven shots he faced after relieving Greiss … The Isles were set to host Philly again Tuesday night in their exhibition opener at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
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