As the New York Islanders continue their run as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, earning respect with each point, there’s a bigger challenge ahead. It’s clear that they have arrived as a top team, but as we all saw last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a host of other teams throughout history, regular-season success does not a Stanley Cup champion make.
The Lightning were a lock for the postseason by February. By coasting into the playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who gained momentum towards the end of the season, were able to overwhelm the Lightning, who hadn’t stumbled all season, and sweep their first-round series, ending the Lightning’s historic season. How can the Islanders make sure they don’t suffer a similar fate as one of the top regular-season teams?
Continue “We Over Me” Mentality
Head coach Barry Trotz has continued to preach a “we over me” mentality, which has been beneficial for the team and its cast of young players. It also helped early in the season when a number of players were out with injuries. Players from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, were plugged into the lineup and the team didn’t miss a beat. Additionally, by playing for one another, the Islanders have created the type of tight-knit locker room necessary for success.
Constant player support, in all three zones, has created layers that keep the puck to the outside, limiting high danger scoring chances. It also puts pressure on the other team to force turnovers and quickly move the puck the other way. In Elliotte Friendman’s 31 Thoughts on Nov. 13, he mentioned a conversation with an NHL coach about the Islanders’ style of play:
“One coach told me his team’s internal metrics indicate that no one spends more time in their own zone than the red-hot New York Islanders. He wondered how that was possible, so he took a look. Answer: ‘They let you go where they want you to go — on the outside.’ You get time, but you don’t get quality.
For those paying attention to the Islanders over the last 100-plus games, this observation isn’t a surprise, though the team has received more attention about it during their point streak.
Trotz’s gameplan has allowed the Islanders to put together a huge first quarter of the season, but their ability to continue to do this consistently for the next few months and into the playoffs will be the ultimate test.
After the loss of their captain, John Tavares, the Islanders were counted out before they hit the ice for the 2018-19 season, and they entered it with a chip on their shoulder. After a slow start, they took to their new coach’s systems and the professional approach of their new general manager, Lou Lamoriello, and gained confidence.
Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Islanders were counted out once again. Another slow start added fuel to that fire, but they turned it around and haven’t looked back. What’s crucial from here on out is that they stay hungry. They can’t rest on their laurels and depend on the banked points from early in the season. Luckily, Trotz has instilled an insatiable appetite for winning and the ability to not look too far ahead.
In addition to the winning culture created by Trotz, what the Islanders have in their favor is that most of the roster went through last season’s successes and failures, including the first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins and getting swept in the second-round by the Carolina Hurricanes. They learned important lessons under Trotz, including the sting of defeat after a magical season.
Those moments allow teams to grow and learn what it takes to win. If the Islanders keep reminding themselves that they’re still considered an underdog and of the feelings of a playoff loss, they’ll stay hungry enough to be a serious contender in the 2020 Playoffs.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.