National Hockey League coaches, just due to the nature of the sport they work in, can’t hope to have the same impact on their team’s fortunes as the guys in the football chapter of their fraternity do.
But on a weekend where hooded New England Patriots head honcho Bill Belichick picked up the 300th win of his NFL coaching career — that’s regular season and playoffs combined, if you’re counting — I couldn’t help but wonder if the guy who does the most to influence his team in the world of puck is New York Islanders bench boss and reigning Jack Adams winner Barry Trotz.
The Isles have ripped off seven straight W’s after downing the Ottawa Senators 4-2 on Friday and dumping the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 on Sunday night. A few things are driving the streak. The team’s top two centres are performing well, with Mathew Barzal putting up five goals in those seven games, while Brock Nelson has contributed seven points. On the back end, Devon Toews is becoming an NHL sophomore to watch, netting a goal and five assists for six points during the run.
What really stands out, though, is how the club continues to keep the puck out of its net under Trotz. The Islanders surrendered five goals to both Edmonton and Carolina during losses in Games 3 and 4 of the season. Since then, it’s been all victories and Sunday’s win over Philly represented the only time New York has allowed more than two goals against during that happy stretch.
Remember, this is a team that finished dead last in goals-against and shots allowed in 2017-18, the year before Trotz arrived and turned them into the stingiest squad in the league. Goalie Robin Lehner was part of the solution, too, landing alongside the new coach and forming a strong battery with Thomas Greiss. Now, Lehner is in Chicago and Greiss continues to enjoy a great partnership in the crease, teaming up with Semyon Varlamov. The two men have basically split the playing time down the middle so far, combining for a .925 save percentage.
Altered duo, same results.
Not all of the Islanders’ underlying numbers are flattering right now, but the squad is doing a good job of controlling high-danger chances against when games are close. Of course, games, divisions and playoff series all tend to be tight in today’s crunched NHL. And with one of the best teachers in the game calling the shots, who knows how far the Islanders can go?
Other Weekend Takeaways
• For the most part, scorching October paces lose a little steam as the season wears on. But looking at goal-a-game guy David Pastrnak, it might be okay to let your imagination run wild. I mean, the man plays on something called ‘The Perfection Line,’ so let’s be careful placing limits in general. Pastrnak — your current NHL goals and points leader — Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand torched the New York Rangers on Sunday, one day after blanking the team that beat them for the Cup last year, the St. Louis Blues. With 11 goals in 11 outings, Pastrnak has a real chance to be the first guy to score 65 since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08.
• Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings was just the second regulation-time victory for the Chicago Blackhawks this year in 10 tries. The aforementioned Lehner improved his save percentage to .935, which compares very favourably to the .888 mark posted by Corey Crawford. Both goalies have started five games this year, so maybe it’s time to change the workloads.
• Thus far, the decision to basically salary dump P.K. Subban is working out wonderfully for Nashville. Ostensibly, the Preds moved Subban to clear the space required to sign free agent Matt Duchene. And while Duchene is Nashville’s top-scoring forward with 11 points, the best two totals on the team come from blue-liners Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis (both with 13). As we all suspected, that Nashville D corps is going to be just fine.
• I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a paying customer on Saturday for the first time in forever and it was pretty great. My big takeaway: The Stanley Cup gets all the love as the best championship trophy (which it obviously is), but the awesomeness of the individual trophies kind of gets overshadowed. There’s an entire room full of gorgeous hardware, starting with the Hart. Great job, hockey!
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Edmonton Oilers (8-3-1) — Sunday’s 6-2 setback versus the Florida Panthers was Edmonton’s first home loss of the year.
2. Vancouver Canucks (6-3-1) — I’d feel a lot better putting them No. 2 if they hadn’t blown the 5-1 lead they held with 20:01 to play on Friday night versus the Capitals. (Hey, at least they became just the second team this season to hold John Carlson without a point!) Let’s see how the young Nucks respond Monday night versus the Panthers.
3. Montreal Canadiens (5-4-2) — The Habs have surrendered eight goals in the final minute of periods this year. It happened again on Saturday night, albeit during a much-needed win over the Leafs.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (6-5-2) — Tyson Barrie has an ugly 0-0-0, minus-9 line in the past 10 games. Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman are expected back soon and the additions can’t come fast enough for the Buds.
5. Winnipeg Jets (6-6-0) — It was great to see Thrashers/Jets lifer Bryan Little get the overtime winner in the outdoor matchup versus Calgary.
6. Calgary Flames (6-5-2) — After netting goals in the first two games of the season, No. 1 centre Sean Monahan has failed to find the net in 11 outings.
7. Ottawa Senators (3-7-1) — Connor Brown got his first goal as a Senator on Saturday during a win over San Jose, but the 25-year-old does have 10 points 11 games into his new Ottawa life.
In Your Ear
Did you happen to notice all those middling records in the rankings above? On the next episode of Tape to Tape, co-host Rory Boylen and I will break down why some Canadian teams with high expectations have produced a big ball of average this year.
The Week Ahead
• Only two games on Oct. 31 and if you can return from trick-or-treating by 8 p.m. ET, you actually won’t miss a thing!
• Speaking of Halloween, forget Wonder Woman, how many kids (and adults) want a Gritty getup for the big night?