Most of the wondering you do while watching an NHL game is of the “How do they do that?” variety, usually following a bar-down zinger or anything that involves the human body getting struck by flying, frozen rubber in unpadded places.
That said, if there’s one aspect of the game that can prompt your mind to drift into “I could probably do that” territory, it’s coaching. No disrespect to the bench generals out there, but somebody writing or reading this article could have guided Scotty Bowman’s late-’70s Habs teams to at least one of those four Cups, right? I mean, would Wayne Gretzky have zero rings if, for some reason, he’d insisted his high school music teacher coach the Oilers?
All-time teams aside, there is, of course, a reason GMs are paying bigger bucks than ever to the whiteboard wizards of the world. And if anything in the league speaks to the power of high-end tutelage, it’s the job Barry Trotz is doing with the Metropolitan Division–leading New York Islanders, who have won five straight games and didn’t allow a goal in their two victories this weekend.
Remember when John Tavares left the Isles last summer and snickering, schadenfreude-seeking types said they should just fold the franchise? Feel free to send your signed mea culpa to the desk of Trotz, and while you’re at it fire another one off to GM Lou Lamoriello, the man who snapped Trotz up just a couple weeks after the latter led the Washington Capitals to the Cup in June.
But, make no mistake, this is a Trotz production.
The coach who made the Nashville Predators one of the hardest-to-face outfits in the league for years before being tabbed to teach the game’s finer points to the talent-rich Capitals is working absolute defensive magic with the Isles. A New York team that finished dead last in both shots and goals against per game last season now gives up the fewest goals in the league (2.42 per contest) and the ninth-fewest shots. Their advanced stats also began trending the right way in the second quarter of the season.
Bear in mind, this is occurring on a squad that lost its franchise centre and made no appreciable upgrades at forward or defence — it’s not like Lamoriello went out and signed Bob Gainey and Rod Langway last summer. And while the league-best .920 save percentage put up by Lehner and Thomas Greiss is commendable, surely those goalies turning in some of the best hockey of their careers has a lot to do with playing behind an every-inch-matters Trotz system.
How does he do it? I’m back to being in awe.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• Surprise, surprise, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson buried on Sunday in his first game back after missing more than two weeks with a knee injury. His 1.13 points per game game as a rookie is the third-best mark seen in the NHL since the league returned from the cancelled season of 2004–05. The two guys ahead of him have been the co-faces of hockey for a dozen years.
• It’s been a rough year in Philly, but watching goalie Carter Hart and centre Nolan Patrick in the Flyers’ 5–2 win over Montreal on Saturday, you wonder about the bounce-back potential for this club. Patrick, the second-overall pick in 2017, has four goals and six points in his past three outings. He’s battled injuries dating back to his major-junior days, but if he can ever turn a corner and get some real confidence going, there’s a lot to like.
Hart, meanwhile, may be the goalie Philadelphia has been waiting decades for. The 20-year-old has appeared in his first 12 NHL games this year, posting a .930 save percentage in his past six. Dare to dream, Philly fans.
• If there’s another just-run-it-back team out there, it has to be the Florida Panthers, who defeated the Leafs 3–1 on Friday and the Predators in Nashville by a 4–2 count the next night. Everything has gone wrong for the Cats this season, starting with Roberto Luongo getting hurt in the first game of the year. Luongo will be 40 in April and has had trouble staying healthy the past couple seasons, so the Panthers need to upgrade that position in the off-season. God knows it’s hard to grant the South Floridians the benefit of the doubt given the franchise’s dubious past, but with all the talent the Panthers have up front — to say nothing of some blue-chippers in the system — things have to fall into place one of these years.
• If you need a reason to believe things are going to be OK on a Monday, check out Tomas Rittich — younger brother of Flames goalie David Rittich — meeting Calgary mascot Harvey the Hound.
Red and White Power Rankings
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-17-2): Is there any chance not trading William Nylander was an overthink? Like, count the number of quality forwards on the team, then do the same for the defenceman and don’t you arrive at an inevitable conclusion?
4. Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5): The Canadiens’ power play is operating at 10.5 per cent on home ice this year. I guess that 15.1 per cent mark on the road doesn’t look so bad!
6. Edmonton Oilers (23-23-3): A Battle of Alberta loss on Saturday followed by a blowout home defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. Forty-eight hours’ worth of misery could definitely be some kind of trade tipping point with the current climate in Edmonton.
7. Ottawa Senators (19-25-5): After missing a month with a concussion, Craig Anderson returned to the net on Saturday and lost a tight 3-2 game to the St. Louis Blues. Anderson has one more year on his contract and I wonder if a contending team that needs some crease help — San Jose comes to mind — will see his history of hot stretches and think about rolling the dice.
In Your Ear
Trade talk dominates this time of year and, on the latest edition of the Tape to Tape podcast, my co-host Rory Boylen and I connected a lot of dots as we tried to figure out some of the best fits between available players and looking-to-add teams. My proposed three-team trade between Carolina, Edmonton and Ottawa alone should be enough reason to get your download on.
• It might not be worth minute-by-minute monitoring just yet, but Ottawa fans are surely hoping this week brings some positive news in the pending-UFA sagas of Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. The clock is ticking…
• Alex Galchenyuk, with seven points in his past seven games, returns to Montreal on Wednesday. For what it’s worth, he’s lining up at left wing these days in Arizona.
• The two most recent Western Conference champs, Nashville and Vegas, collide for a heavyweight tilt worthy of Sin City on Wednesday.
• All-Star break time! Every rink save the SAP Center in San Jose goes dark as of Thursday. The skills competition is set for Saturday before the three-on-three tourney on Sunday.