Hockey

There was no bigger surprise team than the Islanders last season, as Barry Trotz took a contract dispute from DC up the Acela and then proved he can turn just about anything into a useful team. But his boss, Nosferatu, blames free agency for the global warming he assuredly doesn’t believe in, and the Isles look like they’re just going to count on running it back again. Will it work? It’s hard to think a Trotz team will ever be bad, but catching lightning twice has eluded just about everyone in history. Let’s learn about the Islanders.

2018-2019

48-27-7  103 points (2nd in Metro)

Won 1st round over PIT, lost second round to Carolina

2.72 GF/G (22nd)  2.33 GA/G (1st)

47.8 CF% (26th)  51.2 xGF% (12th)

14.5 PP% (29th)  79.9 PK% (19th)

Goalies: The Islanders lost one half of their tandem that anchored this team last year, as Robin Lehner toddled off here in July. The Islanders are going to attempt to take the whispers of Trotz and Mitch Korn and apply them to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was very up and down in Colorado last season, eventually losing his job to Philip Grubauer. That was kind of his whole career in Denver, where he flashed Vezina form at times and then was one of Jack’s French girls at others. But overall, he’s got a career .915 SV%, and considering how all Trotz teams make it easier on goalies, it would be reasonable to expect some good numbers from him.

He’ll pair with Thomas Greiss, who flourished behind this team last year at .927. He and Lehner had high expected-save-percentages thanks to the ultra defensive system, but both exceeded that in actual save-percentages. Greiss has done this before, but hasn’t been able to back it up. He won’t be asked to carry the load here though, and again, goalies under Trotz rarely shit a chicken unless their hip falls off.

Defense: Again, the exact same crew you remember from last year, though this time with a full season from the promising Devon Toews. They’ll hope for another step from Ryan Pulock, as Nick Leddy really struggled for most of the year to push the play. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are about as solid as you can ask for without doing much you’ll remember. Johnny Boychuck will pair with Leddy as he has for the past five seasons, but time seemed to catch up to him last year. As we cannot hammer enough, this defense gets a lot of support from the forwards, but was somewhat exposed by the speed and possession of the Hurricanes last year. Both Trotz and Lamoriello don’t want much to do with puck-moving d-men here, so they’re lucky in that they don’t have a prime one. Still, in a conference that requires you to get past Carolina or Toronto or Boston or Tampa, it probably takes more than obstinance to do so. Maybe Noah Dobson gets a look? That would be a real stretch.

Forwards: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the exact same crew as last year. The only addition to it has been Derick Brassard, or whatever pod person is occupying his body now as he hasn’t been productive in the last three seasons at least. Which leaves Mathew Barzal and his missing T to carry the mail on the top line next to Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Brock Nelson anchors the second line, and after that it’s a whole bunch of grunts and agriculture. Only one Islander forward managed more than 60 points last year (Barzal) and only three had 20 goals or more. And one of those was Casey Cizikas, who shot nearly 20%, and that’s not going to happen again. The Isles will hope to smother and bore their way to a playoff spot again.

Prediction: It’s not wise to go against a Trotz-led team, but the margins are so thin for this bunch. They limit good chances, even if they don’t limit attempts. There’s just so little scoring here, and if they don’t get water-tight defense, the percentages are going to go against them. Neither Varlamov or Greiss is really capable of taking a full starter’s load at this point, so if one falters the whole system might sink underneath them.

Luckily for the Isles, the division blows hardcore. The Caps and Pens are on the downsides of their cycles, with only the Canes looking like their pivoting up beyond the Isles. The Devils day may yet come, but not this season you wouldn’t think. And you can catch a lot of teams cold in January and February when they can’t locate the fucks to give to work hard enough to deal with a Trotz trap. Still looks short to me, but I said that last year too.

Everything Else

At some point, you’d think goalie coaches would be considered like pitching coaches. Then again, they may be as they tend to stick around with teams through multiple coaches. Jimmy Waite has been here through Quenneville and now Colliton. You’ll find that a lot of place.

But Barry Trotz knows better, and has brought Mitch Korn everywhere. Korn turned Rinne into the first version of standout Rinne that he was, and then after he left he fell apart in the playoffs in 2015, much to the delight of Hawks fans everywhere. The Korn traipses off to Washington with Trotz, and turns Braden Holtby from pretty good into a Vezina winner. When that didn’t work, Philip Grubauer threw a .920+ until Holtby was ready in the playoffs.

Now Korn is in the Island, and he’s finally unlocking what everyone thought Robin Lehner could be as well as keeping Thomas Greiss on an even-keel. Both goalies had flashed this kind of form before in their careers, but it seems like Korn is always producing this from whoever his charge is. Hell, Korn even got Carter Hutton to be something when he was a nothing. It happens too much to ignore.

Which of course leaves Trotz to play his boring-ass, it’s-n0t-a-trap hockey and make it look damn effective. Sure, Trotz gets most everything out of players, but none of it works without a goalie putting up a .925. Which is even harder to do in this environment, and yet they still are. They must hate fun.

Also Korn is a weirdo who lives in a hotel.

Game #51 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Dan Saraceni is one-half of the editing team at LightHouseHockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CultureOfLosing. 

After losing Tavares, the Isles are somehow hanging around a playoff spot in the East. How and why? 
 I’d like to just write, “TROTZ” but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, having a coach who actually knows what he’s doing makes a big difference. And after three straight coaches getting their feet wet in the NHL (two with AHL experience, one just as an NHL assistant), having a guy show up with a defined game plan and a crew that’s worked for 20+ years and a Stanley Cup changes a lot of things. There’s way less headless chicken action going on out there and everyone seems to be on the same page regardless of skill level (or lack thereof). The goalies have also been lights out, which can be traced back to better defensive play and – again – coaches like Mitch Korn and Piero Greco that actually have a clue. Whether they actually make the playoffs is still up in the air, but playing like an actual NHL team and not beer league walk-ons has been fun so far.
Is Jordan Eberle playing himself into being actually affordable in the summer for the Isles? Or is he still going to do one?
Eberle is hurt right now, and Josh Ho-Sang has been more than holding his own in Eberle’s spot on the second line. I don’t know if we know why he’s been so unproductive this season, but it’s not really the way you want to go into a UFA year. Between him and the Islanders’ other UFAs (steady captain Anders Lee and the suddenly awakened Brock Nelson), Eberle is easily the odd man out and could be a rental for someone at the deadline. He’ll be coming off a $6 million a year contract from the Oilers, so I don’t know if he’ll come cheap to whoever signs him. If he somehow loves Long Island, maybe he’ll stay but it’s probably not happening.
What on Earth has happened to Nick Leddy? Only 11 points and his metrics smell worse than a skunk on a hot day.
This is from October by our LHH colleague Cary: https://www.lighthousehockey.com/2018/10/23/18014512/nick-leddy-analysis-islanders-slump. Although he’s looked better lately, Leddy’s problems stretch back to the middle of last season, and no one’s sure what happened. It’s frustrating watching a guy who can skate that smoothly and carry the puck well do jack shit with it (especially on the power play. Maybe some guys just aren’t made to be quarterbacks). Maybe he’s trying to do too much or getting too caught up in the defensive aspects of Trotz’s system, but the points just aren’t coming for him and it’s a problem that (so far) the Islanders have managed to overcome. Again, he’s looked okay lately, but when you’re winning, everything looks okay.
Does Lou Lamoriello really provide any hope for Islanders fans or is he the dinosaur we think he is?
Lou provides hope that the New York Islanders can be run like an actual, adult NHL franchise for the first time in a generation. Yes, he’s old as shit and his various rules are largely stupid (ask Dom!). But after years of out-of-the-box thinking, it’s been refreshing to see the Islanders think within the box for a change. Like hiring people to do jobs that most NHL teams have and making changes when stuff isn’t working. That might be a low bar to clear, but it’s something the Islanders haven’t been able to do in quite some time. Any GM is only as good as his last deal, but so far, having Lou looking over everyone’s shoulders has been good for the franchise.

 

Game #43 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Here’s the thing. I love Anze Kopitar. I love watching him play. I think he’s the equal of Toews or Bergeron as two-way centers who can do anything you ask him. If he didn’t play on the West Coast he’d probably have a Selke to his name already (though Bergeron should honestly win it every year until he retires, and then maybe one or two years after that).

That doesn’t mean I think an international tournament should be mutated so that he can play with a mishmash of other players from countries the NHL just doesn’t fancy instead of Slovenia. While that’s not the reason Team Europe was created, it sure feels like it. The NHL feared Denmark or Switzerland or Norway or whatever else getting embarrassed in three games. I’m not sure this outfit will do much better.

Everything Else

evil empire at RI_Poster.indd

Game Time: 6:30PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, NHLN, WGN-AM 720
Drones Over BKLYN: Lighthouse Hockey

The Hawks may have believed that Wednesday night was ripping the band aid on their horrendous offseason, but the true test of mettle begins tonight. This will be the first time Garbage Dick will have to face not only an audience who isn’t outwardly and wrongly sympathetic to his “plight”, but one that could very well be baying for blood every time he’s on the ice. There will be no banner ceremonies and coddling emcees to hide behind.

Add to the mix tonight being the home opener in a new building for a team with expectations of its own, in a city not exactly known for being subtle, and things could go sideways in a hurry.