Islanders’ Culture Change on Full Display

The Lou Lamoriello era in New York is officially underway, and the team he now manages has jumped to a 2-1-0 start despite the tough opponents they have faced. With no game until their rematch against the Nashville Predators on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena, here are some things that stood out through the team’s first three games of the season.

New Letter, Same Lee

Just before Thursday’s season opener, Anders Lee was named the 15th captain in New York Islanders history. However, it appears the newly-stitched ‘C’ onto his sweater has not weighed him down, as the 40-goal scorer from a season ago has two goals through the first three games of the season.

Both tallies have come in typical Lee fashion: working hard to find loose pucks and to maintain position in front of the opposing goal. His first of the season came on Saturday in Brooklyn where he scored off his own rebound to bring the team within one against the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Predators.

Anders Lee - Islanders
The Islanders’ new captain, Anders Lee, is picking up where he left up this season with two goals in the first three games. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His second opened the scoring and proved to be the go-ahead goal in a 4-0 shutout win over the San Jose Sharks at home on Monday. The goal came on the power play, where Lee scored 14 of his 40 goals last season, after collecting the rebound left from Josh Bailey’s one-timer and depositing it past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.

Not to mention, Lee has gotten off to this hot start without former center and captain John Tavares and first line ice-time as he has been paired on the second line with Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle.

Barzal Handling the Pressure

But he only played well and was able to do what he did because Tavares took on all the strong opponents for him, right? It doesn’t appear that way, as Mathew Barzal is adjusting to life as an NHL first-line center just fine. Through three games, the reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner (awarded to the NHL’s rookie of the year) has four points (one goal and three assists) and is tied with Bailey for the team lead in scoring.

The 21-year-old hasn’t shied away from the tougher competition either. He’s up to his old tricks, skating and stick handling through and past opponents quite confidently.

Free-Agent Filppula 

The term and even the price isn’t too bad (a one-year deal worth $2.75 million) but fans were not happy when the team signed 34-year-old Valtteri Filppula on the opening day of the free agency period.

The frustration was certainly justified to an extent as the timing wasn’t quite right. Earlier in the day, the team lost Tavares and signed Leo Komarov to a four-year deal but we’re three games into the Isles’ 2018-19 season and Filppula has a point in all three.

Faking a slapshot to draw Petr Mrazek out of the goal and then sliding it past him via the five-hole, Filppula opened the scoring in Raleigh, North Carolina, which was also good for his first goal as an Islander and the team’s first goal of the season.

Valtteri Filppula - Islanders
Valtteri Filppula is off to a hot start with his new team. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Then, in the following game, defenseman Luca Sbisa took a wrist shot from the point that was tipped on its way to the goal by Tanner Fritz. The deflected shot went off the crossbar and stayed out but Filppula was able to put the rebound home, tying the game at 2-2 in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Predators.

In the third game, up 2-0, doing the simple things right paid off for Filppula and the Islanders. Instead of trying to dangle his way into the zone and around two Shark defenders, the veteran center dumped the puck in. The puck was lobbed into the air and wound up going on goal. After Jones failed to cover it with his glove, the puck ended up in the corner for newly-acquired superstar defender Erik Karlsson to play. However, Filppula was all over him and not only did he strip Karlsson of the puck but he was able to find Matt Martin all alone in front for a 3-0 Islanders lead.

Penalty Kill

Last season, the Islanders’ penalty kill was atrocious. They were dead last in the league with a 73.2 percent success rate but through three games this season, they’re a perfect eight-for-eight and with that, a league-leading 100 percent.

While they are tied with seven other teams for that perfect percentage, they have killed off more penalties than any of those seven, so therefore they are in first.

Adam Pelech Islanders
Adam Pelech has seen an increase in ice-time, especially shorthanded, this season under new head coach Barry Trotz. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Up front, Lamoriello and the Islanders addressed their penalty kill this offseason by signing both Komarov and Filppula who lead all forwards on the team in shorthanded ice-time per game with an average of 2:08 and 2:13 respectively.

However, on defense, the changes have been made in-house. Head coach Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have not only implemented new systems but have made penalty-killers out of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. The two 24-year-old defensemen are paired together at even strength and under former head coaches Jack Capuano and Doug Weight, they didn’t see much ice-time shorthanded if any at all.

Pelech leads the Isles, averaging 3:04 a night shorthanded and Pulock closely follows with 2:58. The two have been a strong shutdown pairing at both even strength on the kill. The two are both extremely good at being able to deny second chances by clearing rebounds away and moving/pushing the play up-ice.

Goaltending Situation Solid but Murky

Through three games and even prior to the start of the season, it didn’t and it doesn’t seem like Trotz has a clear-cut starting goaltender. Thomas Greiss was awarded the start in game number one and after making 45 saves on 46 shots in a 2-1 overtime win, it was a no-brainer to put him back between the pipes for game number two.

However, Greiss wasn’t as sharp in the team’s 4-2 loss to Nashville, making 19 saves on 23 shots in the defeat. With that, Robin Lehner got his first start as an Islander on Monday afternoon and the former Buffalo Sabre recorded a 35-save shutout in a 4-0 win over the Sharks. The win made Lehner the first goaltender in Islanders history to record a shutout in their debut as well as the 51st goaltender to tend the net for the Isles.

With the four days off between the win and the next game, Lehner seems like the obvious choice for this Saturday’s game. Both goaltenders will be rested but just as Greiss deserved the start against Nashville last Saturday, Lehner deserves the start for this upcoming game.

It doesn’t seem like this goaltending situation will be settled soon but that isn’t the worst thing. During the 2015-16 season, Greiss and Jaroslav Halak (now with the Boston Bruins) basically split starts until Halak went down with a season-ending injury in March. Having a ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ works for now until one of the two can emerge as the clear-cut number one guy in goal.

Three games into the new regime, things are looking pretty good. If there’s one thing to take away from the first week of the season, it’s that the Islanders are trending in the right direction.