Heading for the playoffs in his first season behind the Islanders’ bench, Coach Barry Trotz has found chemistry with Long Island, his presence undoubtedly a tonic for players and the team’s fervent fan base.
Trotz speaks of being recognized when running errands, often greeted with high-fives and photo requests. He mentions visiting a local Home Depot, where an enthusiastic fan shopping with her daughters recognized him and was so enthralled that she spontaneously hugged him.
“You talk about special people. Joining the Islander family and living on the Island has been special,” said Trotz, 56, a father of four in his 20th season as an N.H.L. coach. “You want to build a foundation, establish a culture that’s not a one-year thing. You want a certain standard.”
Trotz has helped set a new standard with the Islanders since joining the team after capturing the Stanley Cup last June with the Washington Capitals.
With 48 wins and 103 points, the Islanders had their most successful season since 1983-84, when they had 104 points the year after winning a fourth straight Stanley Cup. They will open the playoffs on Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is the first time the Islanders have earned home ice advantage in a postseason series since 1988.
Fans are so enthused that Trotz often hears his name loudly chanted with appreciation at Nassau Coliseum, a rarity for a coach in any sport.
“It’s very nice, but I’m just that pretty face behind the bench,” he said after the Islanders clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 with last Saturday’s 5-1 home win over Buffalo. “Cheer the players. They are ones getting it done. They are ones blocking shots, making saves and scoring goals.”
Few knew what to expect from the Islanders this season without John Tavares, who signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Many predicted they would miss the playoffs and finish near the bottom of the league standings.
But in Tavares’s absence, the Islanders developed a balanced four-line scoring attack. Eight players scored at least 16 goals, including center Brock Nelson, with 25 goals and a career-best 53 points; Casey Cizikas, who had 20 goals after never scoring more than nine in a season; and 35-year-old forward Valtteri Filppula, a free-agent addition who contributed 17 goals.
Cizikas’s offensive burst was a byproduct of Trotz’s mantra that good defense will lead to offensive chances. Cizikas centers an energy-inducing line with Cal Clutterbuck on the right and Matt Martin on the left, a trio which often takes opening face-off honors in hopes of giving the Islanders an immediate surge.
Trotz agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract in June, days before Tavares left and a month after Lou Lamoriello was hired to replace Garth Snow as general manager.
Trotz sensed he had a quality group from the first day of training camp.
“You come into a situation where the face of franchise left and everybody sort of questions the group and their mettle,” he said. “What you found when you get here is there is great commitment. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here with Lou at the helm.”
Trotz, who last month earned his 800th career victory, devised and enforced a defense-first mind-set, which, along with excellent goaltending, led to a stunning reversal a year after the Islanders allowed the most goals in the N.H.L. Goaltenders Robin Lehner (25 wins, 2.13 goals-against-average) and Thomas Greiss (23 victories, 2.28 G.A.A.) will share the Jennings Trophy as the Islanders finished this regular season with fewest goals allowed, the first time in a century a team went from worst to first in that category.
Even after the occasional subpar performance, these Islanders do not panic, showing a mental stamina that bodes well for playoff success. They didn’t lose three consecutive games in regulation all season.
“We want everybody having structure,” Trotz said. “Structure is a plan and piecing of what everybody does. If something breaks down, you have what I call layers of trust and we have had trust in our game.”
Martin, who rejoined the Islanders after the past two seasons with Toronto, offered a wry smile and chuckle when asked how he realized a new sheriff was on the ice.
“That first rep of training camp is pretty well when I felt it,” he said. “We didn’t execute a pass and Barry broke it down and restarted the drill. He’s big on little things. It’s accountability in a calming light.”
Trotz enjoyed a dose of Islanders history last month when he was part of a tribute weekend for Bill Torrey, architect of the four Stanley Cup champions from 1980 to ’83 with Coach Al Arbour. Many Cup-winning players gathered to share memories of those championship seasons and to have to chance to engage with the team’s latest coach.
Bob Nystrom, who scored perhaps the most famous goal in Islanders history to win the Stanley Cup in 1980, played his entire career for Arbour. Asked about a parallel between Trotz and Arbour, Nystrom’s answer was unequivocal.
“I would say a very big ‘yes’ because Barry knows how to relate,” said Nystrom, whose son, Eric, played three seasons in Nashville, where Trotz coached for 15 years. “Barry has a way not too many coaches have. He can just relate to the veterans and the kids.”
Current Islanders are believers in the Trotz method.
“He’s calm but accountable and he expects you to do things the right way,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, he’s our leader and if he’s yelling and screaming, then guys are yelling and screaming. He brings an overall ‘chill out and focus on the task at hand’ approach.”
Anders Lee was named captain before the team’s opening night game and has responded with a team-leading 28 goals.
“Barry has a feel for how guys are doing and he makes decisions pretty quick,” Lee said. “There’s confidence when there is someone like that making the calls. We know what the message is every day.”
Published at Mon, 08 Apr 2019 04:15:31 +0000