One Word: Everything
PS: What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks is this thing 👇 Answer at the bottom.
The Islanders are leading the Lightning 1-0: If you were surprised by the New York Islanders’ win in Game One of the Stanley Cup Semifinal, you shouldn’t be. After all, they did make it to the same round in last year’s playoffs. But for those who counted them out of the Stanley Cup conversation, why shouldn’t it be a surprise?
When asked “what was the key to being successful at keeping [the Tampa Bay Lightning] quiet,” Head Coach Barry Trotz responded, “I think number one is just managing the puck; two, we were disciplined; three, we didn’t take a lot of unnecessary risk.” These are some of the many reasons why the Islanders have been so good.
A big component of the Islanders’ success is how extremely consistent they are at making good decisions with the puck, both offensively and defensively. No matter how big the game or how high pressure the moment is, it seems that they never stray from the plan put in place by Trotz. They consistently work harder than their opponents, winning the majority of puck battles, and do so without taking unnecessary penalties. And what’s been the result? So far, they’ve managed to contain the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Evgeni Malkin and the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, Taylor Hall, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
What the Islanders do well defensively
The Islanders’ defense is all about making smart decisions and executing. First, while simultaneously maintaining strong defensive sticks, they focus on playing the body/player rather than the puck. This is extremely important because puck-watching is a source of all sorts of defensive problems. Similarly, all players make a point of finishing their checks, which has led to wear and tear on their opponents (for example, see Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Curtis Lazar, and Craig Smith of the Bruins).
Once the Islanders gain some degree of possession after retrievals or puck battles, they typically make one of four smart decisions:
make a short pass to a supporting player to make a clean exit
send the puck to a semi-open man for a tip out of the zone
get the puck out by putting it high off the glass; or
when options #1, #2, and #3 aren’t available, contain the puck and wait for support.
It’s amazing how few errors they’ve made by keeping things so “simple.” And when all else has failed in the defensive zone, the Islanders have been able to count on spectacular goaltending by Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov.
What the Islanders do well offensively
It’s tempting to say that the Islanders’ defense is their greatest strength, but in reality, their offense is just as good, if not better. The reason why it’s easy to forget their offense is because it isn’t flashy. It’s quiet, consistent, and effective.
The Islanders’ offense starts with clean outlet passes to clear and available options; after a defenseman retrieves the puck, there’s always someone open and ready to receive the first pass. In fact, it’s amazing how they manage to do this for all succeeding passes en route to the other end of the ice. And if there isn’t a clean option available to carry it past the other team’s blue line, they rarely fail to
1. put the puck deep in the offensive zone, and
2. retrieve it using their aggressive forecheck
Once it’s in the offensive zone, the Islanders’ defense has done a great job at pinching and holding the line. Hand-in-hand, the forwards do a great job at recognizing these pinches and switching off to cover their backs. In all cases, the Islanders maintain numbers on the defensive side of the puck, which provides offensive options and prevents odd-man rushes.
Zooming out, the Islanders’ play has been extremely impressive. It looks so textbook that it feels like we’re watching a scripted VHS tape from the ‘80s or ‘90s. Instead of trying to win with dynamic firepower like the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, or Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders are playing a solid team game...better than anyone thought they could.
Sparky The Dragon. Here’s why.