With the wounds still fresh from a sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Islanders are just beginning to reflect on this season. Considering the changes at general manager, head coach and team captain, the Islanders, who most predicted would miss the playoffs, overachieved with a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. While the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup wasn’t achieved, progress was made and the future looks promising. The 2018-19 season turned out to be one of the most memorable in the history of the storied franchise.
Islanders Make History
Barry Trotz’s laser focus on team defense met with remarkable results. The Islanders allowed 100 fewer goals than they did in the previous season and went from the NHL worst to the best in goals against, the first time in 100 years that feat was accomplished. As goals-against diminished, point totals rose and the upstart Isles found themselves atop the standings.
For their efforts, the Islanders have finalists for three NHL awards, including Trotz for the Jack Adams Award (as coach of the year) and Robyn Lehner for both the Vezina (top goalie) and Masterson (dedication to hockey) Trophies. The club registered 11 shutouts, setting a franchise record and placing them in the top 50 NHL teams of all time to do so. Their 103 points were a team-best since the 1983-84 dynasty season. As Metropolitan Division runners-up, they fell one point short of the top spot, edged out by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals.
Islanders Regular Season Highlights
Every team has rivalry games circled on the calendar. The Islanders went a respectable 2-2 vs. their longtime foes, the New York Rangers. This season, with John Tavares defecting to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Islanders went 3-1 against their old captain’s club, including a shutout on the road. In possibly their biggest game of the season, the Isles turned in a 6-1 rout at Nassau Coliseum in Tavares’ return to Long Island. Fans rejoiced as #91 had a rough homecoming in Uniondale.
In the Metro Division, Trotz’s group notched two road shutouts against his former club, the Capitals, and went undefeated vs. the New Jersey Devils. Most impressive was the Islanders’ consistency which led to a comfortable playoff berth rather than needing a late stretch of wins to qualify for the postseason.
The team split their home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. This was an odd and unique situation that fortunately seemed to work out. When many thought it would be farewell forever to the coliseum, leadership decided to schedule games at the old barn including the first round of the playoffs. The Islanders went undefeated in Uniondale in the postseason but managed only one goal in two home losses in Brooklyn.
Islanders Playoff Sweep
Although their playoff run ended in the second round, the Islanders’ first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins was impressive as it was unexpected. The performance was arguably one of the best sweeps in team history and a welcome surprise for fans who hadn’t seen this in 31 years. The high-powered Pens led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored only six goals and were suffocated by the Islanders’ speed and style of play.
The inexperienced Isles showed confidence and poise by out-battling the offensive-minded Penguins and trailed for under four minutes the entire series! While the second-round loss to Carolina was disappointing, for fans not used to playoff success the first-round dominance was a refreshing treat.
Islanders Quick Look Ahead
Can the Islanders match this level of success and maintain another season of stingy defensive play? Coach Trotz’s style requires discipline and team unity in addition to strong conditioning to execute game in and game out. In addition, will other teams mimic the tactics used by Carolina to solve their defensive pressure and puck control? Before any discussion of trades, signings and waivers it’s important to look back and savor this impressive campaign. The 2018-19 Islanders were a special group and this season will be remembered for unexpected achievements and highlights.