Early in the season, it took some time for the New York Islanders to buy into coach Barry Trotz’s systems and for the team to find its groove. But what’s come out on the other side is a disciplined team on the cusp of something only one other Islanders squad has done in the last quarter century – win a playoff series.
What they’ve proved, beyond the fact that they’re simply a good team, is that they’re focused and hungry. The Islanders aren’t looking beyond this series and know there’s work to be done.
One Game at a Time
What was clear after Sunday’s win was that the team understood that Game 4 may be the most difficult of the series. They’ll be facing a desperate Penguins team on the brink of elimination, and the Islanders are fully aware.
Robin Lehner’s thoughts echoed throughout the locker room during the post-game interviews, indicative of the team’s leadership from general manager Lou Lamoriello down to the veterans in the lineup. This is an important trait for a team of mostly young players, especially as they take the ice in Game 4 against a team that knows how to come back from the brink.
Notable Series Stats
As if the Islanders being up three to nothing in this series isn’t impressive enough, there are some stats that stand out heading into Game 4 in Pittsburgh.
The Islanders have only played from behind for a total of 3:17 in three games. This shows the poise that the Islanders are playing with, even as many of their players have little or no playoff experience. They believe in themselves and aren’t allowing a goal against to get them off track.
The Islanders have also been getting better in the defensive zone as the series has progressed. Shots continue to come from the outside and the Penguins can’t seem to get any momentum or speed through the neutral zone, making Lehner’s job a bit easier.
The Islanders allowed only 26 shots on goal in Game 3, down from the 33 they allowed in their 3-1 win in Game 2 and way down from the 44 they allowed in their 4-3 overtime win in Game 1.Colin Stephenson | Newsday
The Islanders have also held Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet. That’s impressive on its own, but even more so when you look at his stats against the Islanders (113 points in 66 games) and his career playoff numbers (66 goals and 185 points in 163 playoff games). This isn’t to say he’s been a non-factor, but his chances, and those of his linemates, have been limited by the shutdown pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech and the steady play of Lehner.
This Season Is Not a Fluke
Heading into this season, it was understandable to have the Islanders not doing well. They lost their captain and superstar center, John Tavares, and allowed nearly 300 goals last season. The team, under new GM leadership, added more behind the bench and in the front office than to the lineup, compounding the questions surrounding the team.
Surprisingly, the Islanders seemed to do well. But, as winning streaks were broken and the team started to bend, even Islanders fans began to wonder if the success would last, including myself. Now, as the Islanders sit in a position to clinch the series in four games, the question appears to be answered – this season is no fluke.
This season appears to be a quick turnaround, and in many respects it is, but much of this season’s success began last summer when Lamoriello and Trotz began to meet with players. Long before players traveled to Long Island to skate with the team, Trotz and Lamoriello started to get buy-in from the players, set expectations, and better understand the approach necessary to have a successful season. In short, none of this was an accident, and they certainly knew more about this team heading into this season than anyone else.
The Islanders face-off in Pittsburgh against the Penguins tonight in a must-win game for the home team. New York can prove to the hockey world they’re more than a flash in the pan, but it’ll be a battle from start to finish.
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.