It may be something most teams despise, but back-to-backs have treated the New York Islanders well over the past year and a half. They have been remarkable in the second game under head coach Barry Trotz and are 30-8-2 when they have games on consecutive nights. Even more impressive, they are 17-2-1 in the second game.
It is almost a given that the Islanders will use both of their goaltenders in these situations. They alternated in back-to-backs all seven times this season and have only had the same goaltender play twice in a row three times in the last season and a half on these occasions.
The Islanders rotated goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov through the first 33 games of the season. Each netminder has received 29 or more starts this season. Greiss has started the second night four times and is 3-1 and 6-1-1 in the past season and a half. Generally, in these games, the offense has not been a problem, and the goaltending in the second game has been nothing short of sensational.
On the back end, Greiss has a save percentage (SV%) of .946. Varlamov, who has taken the place of Robin Lehner in those games, is 3-0 in his starts with a .951 SV%, which is .05 points lower than Lehner from last season.
We have not seen it as much this season with all the injuries that the Islanders have had, but they were very successful last season in rotating fresh bodies. At 36 years old, Johnny Boychuk has had opportunities to rest with Trotz filling in players such as Thomas Hickey, Luca Sbisa (last season) and Noah Dobson (this season). However, Trotz mainly played the same six defenders since the scary incident against the Montreal Canadiens when Boychuk was cut by a skate.
The same can be said about the forward lines. Tom Kuhnackl and Ross Johnston have mainly been the two players scratched, but they have broken into the lineup in back-to-backs. We saw it earlier this season when Johnston played the first game against the Washington Capitals to keep Tom Wilson in check, and then Kieffer Bellows replaced him the next night for more offense.
Many teams have defenders play 25-plus minutes a night. Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators had three consecutive games of 30 minutes or more. However, that is not the case with the Islanders. Up until the Adam Pelech injury, all six of the Islanders defensemen would be around 20 minutes a night. Trotz had no fear of letting any of his players lead the team in ice time and kept them fresh the next day.
With such a strong fourth line featuring Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, the Islanders roll out all four lines the entire game, keeping the forwards fresh as well. There are games where the fourth line gets more ice time than the second line, especially in matchups where the Islanders are protecting a lead.
Looking at opponents in back-to-backs, the Islanders won all seven of their back-end games when their opponent played the night before. In 2018-19, the Islanders faced five teams that won the night before, and in 2019-20, the team they played that night lost their previous game but went a perfect 7-0 in those situations.
Before the suspension in the NHL, the Islanders were going to have their eighth back-to-back of the season as they were scheduled to face the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, but those games were not played. If the regular season were to resume, the Islanders might have an advantage if the schedule has to condense. New York has three games in-hand on seven teams but will need to make up many games if they continue an 82-game schedule.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.