Trotz: Offense not a concern for Islanders
New York kicks off new season at NYCB Live on Friday vs. Capitals.
The New York Islanders went from the worst defensive team in the NHL in 2017-18 to the very best in the league last season, something that hadn’t been accomplished on the circuit in over a century.
But at the dawn of this new campaign, which will kick off Friday at NYCB Live, a.k.a. the renovated Nassau Coliseum, against the Washington Capitals, the Long Island/Brooklyn-based franchise is eager to improve its offense.
Unless, of course, you listen to Jack Adams Trophy-winning Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz.
“To say you’re not a good offensive team is a bunch of crap to me. We were pretty good offensively. Can we finish better? Absolutely,” Trotz said in advance of beginning his second season in charge of the Isles.
The Islanders rode their defense-first style to the playoffs following a 103-point campaign, marking their highest total since the 1983-84 season, which resulted in their fifth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
New York stunned Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of last year’s playoffs with a four-game sweep before suffering the same fate at the hands of the Carolina Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Isles managed just seven goals in that series, including a crushing 1-0 loss in the opener at Downtown’s Barclays Center that set an ominous tone for the series.
Though New York finished first in goals allowed and featured the Jennings Award-winning goaltending tandem of Thomas Greiss and since-departed Vezina Trophy-finalist Robin Lehner, they also ranked just 22nd overall in goals scored.
While the defense will almost certainly take a hit with the departure of Lehner, who inked a one-year, $5 million pact with Chicago, Trotz doesn’t believe his team is as bereft of scoring punch as many are indicating.
“I look at our five-on-five game and work from there,” he insisted. “Can we be better offensively on our power play? We can score more there and it changes everybody’s perception.”
Trotz has a point.
Though the Isles’ power play was lacking last year — they finished tied for 29th in man-advantage goals — the team finished closer to the middle of the pack, 16th overall, in scoring during 5-on-5 play.
Also, the Isles’ dedication to defending the blue line and keeping pucks away from Lehner and Greiss, who will be teamed with veteran free agent Semyon Varlamov between the pipes this season, was a major factor in limiting the Isles’ offensive output.
Trotz’ style made for more victories, the team’s second playoff series win since 1993 and hope for a brighter future.
But it also cut into the statistics of premium offensive threats like Mathew Barzal, who managed just 62 points one year after winning the Calder Trophy with a dazzling 85-point rookie campaign.
“I think there were a lot of things last year in the regular season that maybe swayed my numbers, or everyone’s numbers in here really,” Barzal told the team’s website.
“It was a defensive outlook, that’s what we were going for, we were winning games 2-1… My rookie year it seemed like every game was 6-5, 5-4, that kind of stuff. It was fun, but it’s really not the way you win. For me, it’s about being that complete player and keep developing my game.”
Less fun and more wins also influenced the goal total for team captain Anders Lee, who re-signed with the club this summer after lingering in free agency for a good part of the signing period.
Lee was coming off his first career 40-goal year in 2017-18 before finishing with 28 in his first year under Trotz.
That total still led the Isles, who also thrived despite the loss of former captain John Tavares, who left the franchise to sign with Toronto the summer before.
New York only lost veteran Valtteri Filppula from last year’s corps of forwards and added free agent Derick Brassard, who is coming off one of the worst years of his career that featured stops in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado.
“When I look back, I feel like I almost didn’t play last season because I moved so many times,” said Brassard. “It was impossible to get going. But I know what I can do out there. I know I can help this team. When I was talking about getting a role, I just have to go back and play my game. I think this team fits my game really well. I’m just excited to get the season started.”
Mainstays Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and newly re-signed winger Jordan Eberle will once again be aiming to boost New York’s offensive numbers.
“Ebs is a really good pro. I think he’s taken the next step,” Trotz said of Eberle, who led the Isles with nine points, including four goals, during last season’s playoff run.
“Last year, in the last quarter and in the playoffs, he got it to the next level. I haven’t seen anything that would suggest he’s going to revert to a level down. I think he’s comfortable in that next level and he’s an important piece for us.”
For a team that hasn’t hoisted the Cup since 1983 and is a couple of years away from moving into a brand-new state-of-the-art arena adjacent to the legendary Belmont Race Track in Elmont, N.Y., the Isles are much more concerned with resuming their winning ways than padding the score sheet.
“I just want to develop as a player,” Barzal noted. “Obviously as any offensive player would say they want to score, get points and contribute to wins, but I don’t think it really matters to anyone in this locker room, for anyone really, as long as we’re winning.
“As long as we’re in that playoff hunt. That’s my goal and what I want.”
Isle Have Another: The Islanders will be a full month into their season before they hit the ice at Downtown’s Barclays Center. The team’s Barclays opener, originally scheduled for Sunday against Winnipeg, will not take place until Nov. 5 vs. Ottawa. The Isles were originally supposed to split their 41 regular-season games between Barclays and NYCB Live, but announced during last week’s groundbreaking at Belmont that the renovated Coliseum would host 28 contests this season and Barclays would only get 13. … Following their opener against the Caps, the team Trotz coached to the Stanley Cup title two seasons ago, the Isles will remain on Long Island to host Winnipeg on Sunday and Edmonton on Tuesday. They hit the road for a showdown with the Hurricanes in Carolina on Oct. 11, marking their only contest away from Uniondale in the first six contests.
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