Playoff Bound Islanders Proved Everyone Wrong
If you told an NHL fan in October that the New York Islanders would make the playoffs, they might look at you like Edmonton looked at Peter Chiarelli after the Taylor Hall trade. Even those on Long Island may have questioned that claim. After losing superstar John Tavares to free agency, a move that was the first of its kind, the team looked dead in the water. Led by new captain Anders Lee, new star Mathew Barzal and new coach Barry Trotz, the team was rejuvenated and will be competing for the Stanley Cup later this month.
So many experts predicted this to be yet another rebuilding year for the Islanders, my favorite being a Deadspin article titled “A 2018–19 NHL Season Preview Of Every Team, From Best To Islanders.” The two goaltenders who are both ranked top 5 in the league in goals against and save percentage and have five shutouts apiece? Ranked 29th by ESPN, the defense was also ranked 29th.
The team turned this into a rallying cry, wearing “prove them wrong” t-shirts and looking like a completely different team. They did something that could have never been predicted; they played as a team. After going so long with individual play, the Islanders were brought together by not only the negative predictions, but Head Coach Barry Trotz as well.
It’s still shocking that a Stanley Cup winning coach, such as Trotz, could be doubted by so many, especially the defending champion coach. Trotz’s defensive system helped a unit that sent out the same six defenders, prior to Devon Toews’ call-up, improve tremendously. Ryan Pulock, always discredited due to his lack of defensive abilities, has made major strides in his own zone and has been the team’s best defenseman. Fringe defensemen Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield have carved out full-time roles thanks to much-improved play. This team is a testament to how, in the NHL, coaching trumps individuals players.
The chip-on-the-shoulder mentality coupled with the defending Stanley Cup winning coach and legendary GM Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders crushed all odds and clinched a playoff birth. The team will look to continue its run of proving people wrong with tough defense and strong work ethic. The more people doubt, the better the team becomes.