Fish Sticks – Barry Trotz showing that gritty isn’t just a scary mascot
Barry Trotz has instilled a tenacity, a grit in the Islanders that has just been lacking over the past few seasons. They had it during their improbable playoff run in 2013, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games but pushed them to the brink in each and every game. Since then, a lot of the success has been offense oriented and more of a fly by the seat of your pants approach.
The veteran coach has shown that you can still score without having to play a run and gun style. While the Islanders may be severely outshot in most games, a lot of those shots are low danger and the Islanders’ structure and goaltending is competent enough to keep pucks out of the net. The more important thing that Barry Trotz has taught is that in order to be successful in the NHL, you need to be hard to play against every single game. Here are three reasons why the Islanders have gotten off to a spectacular start, and why their grit is what’s keeping them in games.
Finally playing with structure
Jack Capuano’s teams had a little bit of structure, but poor goaltending. Doug Weight’s teams had very little structure, but great offense. Barry Trotz has finally found a balance between good structure, good goaltending, and good offense.
Trotz has his team fully committed to defense, with his guys playing a calm, structured system. The Islanders may not be as exciting, but they’re still scoring plenty of goals. However, those odd man rushes that plagued them last season have been solved. It’s amazing how much a little more structure can make a difference in a team’s play.
Brock Nelson’s commitment to defense
Brock Nelson is a completely different player this season as opposed to last. He is still scoring goals in October, makes mistakes from time to time, but he has a different feel to his game, a feel that has elevated him to second line center.
He has fully committed to defense, and his commitment has worked wonders for both his reputation with Islander fans, and his status on a team with a lot of question marks next season. The most prevalent example of Nelson’s new found commitment was Thursday’s game against the Rangers, when Nelson was a one man wrecking crew on the forecheck. With about a minute to go, Brock Nelson hounded Tony D’Angelo and pushed him out of the zone. Nelson kept pursuing D’Angelo, who was trying to backtrack to his empty net.
Nelson was able to pry the puck away from D’Angelo, throw a pass off to Cal Clutterbuck, and watch as Clutt sealed the game with an empty net goal. Nelson’s biggest issue his entire career was his wishy-washy effort. He would show up for some games, not show up for others, and sometimes would just look lost out there. Now with Trotz, he knows exactly what his role is and how to be a better NHL player.
Accountability is key
If any word has been thrown around to describe this Islander season so far, it’s the word accountability. There’s finally accountability from up top, as Lou Lamoriello runs a very tight ship. There’s accountability from the coach, as Barry Trotz plays no favorites and demands hard work from his teams every single game. There’s accountability from each of the players, as they’re holding themselves to a higher standard than years past.
Barry Trotz is not afraid to bench young stud Mathew Barzal, especially after a bad penalty. He’s not afraid to sit Adam Pelech after a stretch of terrible games. He’s not afraid to put Tom Kuhnhackl on the second line, rewarding him for his hard work and two crazy goals. What’s great about Barry Trotz is that his accountability is contagious, and it’s starting to catch fire within the Isles’ locker room.
Are the Islanders still a flawed team? Absolutely. Will some of their deficiencies (lack of shot production, poor PP, etc.) come back to haunt them eventually? Probably. Regardless, Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have created a positive environment where hard work comes first and glory comes after. They have created the vision that in order to be successful, the work always needs to come first. The Islanders have become a very hard team to play against, and that’s not just from pure luck. It’s a product of Barry Trotz’s ability to get his team to work, to play with grit. It’s the New York way, after all.
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