Isles expecting ‘hell of a series’ from Caps
Best-of-seven against Trotz' former team begins Wednesday
Only two years removed from leading the Washington Capitals to their first-ever Stanley Cup title, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz hopes to turn his former team into also-rans in this year’s playoffs.
“It’ll be a hell of a series,” Trotz said Monday after the Isles got the weekend off following last Friday afternoon’s series-clinching 5-1 rout of the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup qualifiers.
“Both teams are well-equipped to go at each other.”
Fresh off a four-game disposal of Florida, the Isles must now deal with Alex Ovechkin and the high-powered Capitals in a best-of-seven, first-round series, which kicks off Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the NHL’s Eastern Conference bubble site in Toronto.
Trotz, who spent four years at the helm in D.C., culminating in the franchise lifting Lord Stanley’s coveted cup in 2018 before he relocated to the Long Island/Brooklyn-based Isles, knows a thing or two about his ex-club, but not necessarily enough to give New York a big edge in this showdown.
“You spend some time with a lot of the players, but there are a lot of new players [in Washington],” Trotz noted. “It just gives me a little insight into some of their tendencies, that’s all.”
Any insight Trotz can provide should be helpful against one of the NHL’s most potent offenses.
Washington, which finished atop the Metropolitan Division with 90 points, ranked second in the league behind Tampa Bay in scoring average with 3.42 goals per game.
Ovechkin lit the lamp an NHL-tying 48 times this year, and is one of 11 Trotz-era players who remain on the Caps.
But the Isles don’t need their coach to tell them how important it is to keep the future Hall of Famer at bay during what figures to be a matchup of distinct styles in Round 1.
Especially since the Russian juggernaut will be supported by high-scoring defenseman John Carlson (team-high 80 points) as well as center Niklas Backstrom and fellow winger T.J. Oshie.
“First of all, you’ve got to take away number 8,” Cizikas said of Ovechkin. “He’s going to get looks, but you have to limit them and make it hard for him to get through.
“Once you take him away you’ve got guys like Oshie in the middle, you’ve got Backstrom and Carlson up top. It’s pretty deadly, but you have to be willing to block shots and get the puck down when you get the chance.”
Trotz benefited greatly from the Caps’ prolific offense during his tenure in our nation’s capital.
However, he has built the Isles into back-to-back playoff participants behind a stifling defense, one that ranked first in the league in goals allowed last year, ninth overall this season and limited Florida to just seven tallies over four games during the qualifier.
“That group has a lot of pedigree, a lot of star power, and they’ve won championships. They are well-equipped in a lot of areas,” Trotz said of Washington.
“The biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard. They’ll do the same because I know a lot about that group.”
Isles veteran forward Brock Nelson, who had two goals and an assist against the Panthers, believes his teammates are up to the challenge, especially after yielding just four five-on-five goals to Florida in the qualifiers.
“We all know as a group the style of our play isn’t flashy, but we trust and believe in one another,” Nelson said.
“Every line can go out there and contribute five-on-five and is responsible defensively against anybody on the other side. Everyone has confidence from Barry and the guys, and the guys to each other to go out there and get the job done at five-on-five.”
The Isles have certainly held their own against the Caps since Trotz switched benches.
New York and Washington have split eight regular-season games over the past two seasons, with the road club emerging victorious each time.
The Isles haven’t skated against the Caps since pulling out a 5-3 victory in D.C. on Feb. 10, nearly a month before the NHL pause due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and six months prior to the team’s meeting for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We match up pretty good against them,” Isles defenseman Nick Leddy said.
“They’re always high-intensity games through the regular season. It almost feels like a playoff game every time we play them. It’ll be no different, everything will be more intense, a little faster piece. It’ll be a fun series, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Isle Have Another: Anthony Beauvillier led the Isles with three goals, including a pair in the Game 4 clincher, and two assists in the qualifier round. … It’s hard to imagine Trotz going away from Semyon Varlamov in net against the Capitals as the Russian netminder started all four games vs. Florida. Varlamov, who boasts a 3-1 record with a 1.77 goals-against average in the playoffs thus far, spent his first three NHL seasons in Washington after being selected in the first round (23rd overall) by the Caps in the 2006 NHL Draft.
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