Lamoriello, Trotz orchestrate Islanders’ big turnaround

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NEW YORK (AP) — Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz say they didn’t know exactly what to expect from the New York Islanders this season.

There were plenty of questions after the Islanders gave up 293 goals – the most in the NHL since 2006-07 – while missing the playoffs for the eighth time in 11 years. There was uncertainty on offense when star center John Tavares left in free agency for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

”There were a lot of unknowns. We had no preconceived notions,” Lamoriello said. ”Whatever expectations there were, there were really none one way or another.”

The answers have come in the form of a stunning one-year turnaround that has the Islanders in the second round of the playoffs. New York gave up a league-low 191 goals, charged to second place in the Metropolitan Division and just swept the star-laden Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

Knowing some had picked them to miss the playoff again, players just shrug it off.

”That’s kind of been a little bit of the story line here and we’re used to it,” said Anders Lee, who succeeded Tavares as team captain. ”That’s just the way it’s been, not just this year, it’s kind of always been that way. This year we’ve really taken it on and run with it.”

Both Lamoriello and Trotz say they knew they were going to give up fewer goals with a better defensive approach.

”We wanted to play a certain way,” Trotz said. ”We knew we could fix the goals against, that’s commitment and that’s work ethic, detail and structure.”

The 76-year-old Lamoriello, whose long career includes building the New Jersey Devils into an NHL power a generation ago, vowed to bring a culture change to the Islanders when he took over as the president of hockey operations last May. A few weeks later, he fired general manager Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight.

Trotz was hired as coach in June, days after he led Washington to its first Stanley Cup championship and then abruptly resigned in a contract dispute. The hiring was celebrated by the Islanders’ rabid fan base, which has seen just one postseason series win since 1993 – a far cry from the glory days of winning four championships in a row.

After losing Tavares, Lamoriello went about filling the roster with players with winning experience. Veterans like Leo Komarov, 32, and Valtteri Filppula, 35, were brought in to help the development of youngsters like Anthony Beauvilier. And 27-year-old Tom Kuhnhackl, who won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins, was also a solid addition.

”We were looking for good people, the people who have won,” Trotz said. ”That’s so important for our growth as an organization and a group coming in. We looked for character people and Lou did a great job.”

The Islanders have embraced Trotz’s swarming, defense-first system.

”It’s helped us all along,” said forward Josh Bailey, now the longest-tenured Islander in his 11th season with the team. ”It’s a big part of our identity and I think the more results we’ve seen as the season went on, the more belief (it fostered) in one another and what we were doing, and trust in our staff and everyone.”

A big question in the offseason centered on goaltending after Robin Lehner was signed to pair with Thomas Greiss. Lehner was with Buffalo the previous season and left a game down the stretch because of a panic attack and was subsequently treated for alcohol and drug addiction and also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD and PTSD. He talked openly about his personal life when he joined the Islanders, and credited the organization and his new teammates with giving him support.

Greiss and Lehner were solid all season. Greiss went 23-14-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average and five shutouts while Lehner was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA and six shutouts. The two shared the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league. Lehner started all four games in the series against the Penguins, limiting them to six goals on 136 shots, and is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

The focus on defense has meant playing with more discipline. And while a few players enjoyed boosts in their offensive production, it meant reductions for others, including Mathew Barzal, Lee, Bailey and Jordan Eberle. The sacrifices have resulted in more overall success.

”We play as a team,” Trotz said. ”I think everybody has given up a part of themselves to be a part of something greater.”

The coach points to a road trip in December that became a springboard for the rest of the season. They had lost five of the previous nine after the Thanksgiving weekend, and then won three of four, shutting down high-scoring lines for Colorado and Dallas.

”I think from that point we really trusted our game,” Trotz said. ”We were sort of in-between a little bit and that sort of galvanized the group.”

In the second game after Christmas, the Islanders went to Toronto and shut out the Maple Leafs 5-0 in their first game playing against Tavares. It was part of a stretch in which the Islanders went 16-2-3 from Dec. 8 to Feb. 2 to jump to the top of the division.

”I came into this team and talked to the guys straight in the summer and a lot of the guys said ‘We’re going to go far,”’ Lehner said. ”That just grew during the season when the system started to jell and we started playing together.”

They Islanders say they’re not simply satisfied with just getting to the second round, where they will face either Carolina or Trotz’s former team, the Capitals.

”We’re nowhere near where we want to be at,” Bailey said. ”You have to win four (series) to win it all.”

Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Brothers from the Congo flourishing on the ice

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Over 10 years ago Steve and Molly Seidl of Stillwater, Minnesota, adopted two brothers, Sawyer and Simon, from an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the time, they were three and five years old, and after settling in their new home the two brothers began to play hockey, garnering attention with skills few would have anticipated.

While this hockey family has dealt with some unwelcome attention due to the color of Sawyer and Simon’s skin, that has not affected their passion and love for the game.

In fact, it has motivated them to push forward. The brothers hope to be an example for others, removing labels and barriers to allow everyone an opportunity to play.

Now 13 and 15 years old, they are dominating their age groups and playing in youth tournaments all over the world.

You can check out their story in the video above.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues-Ducks game rescheduled for March 11; Blues-Panthers game also moved

Blues Ducks Game
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The NHL announced on Sunday that the postponed game between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks from this past week has been rescheduled for March 11 in Anaheim.

That game was initially postponed just seven minutes into the first period when veteran Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the team’s bench due to a cardiac episode.

The two teams will replay the full 60 minutes, but the game will begin with a 1-1 score, which was the score at the time of the postponement.

As a result of this rescheduling, the NHL also announced that the Blues game against the Florida Panthers, originally scheduled for March 10, will now be played on March 9 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins hold off Rangers, improve lead atop Atlantic, NHL

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The Bruins and Rangers both came into Sunday playing good hockey. It makes sense, then, that Boston needed to work hard to beat the Rangers 3-1. By persevering, the Bruins improved their lead over Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and thus the entire NHL.

Charlie McAvoy opened the scoring with a strange goal. Charlie Coyle collected a shorthanded game-winner, while Mika Zibanejad scored New York’s lone goal. Patrice Bergeron iced the win with a remarkably fancy empty-netter.

Jaroslav Halak continues to be a strong backup for the Bruins, stopping 25 out of 26 shots. Alexandar Georgiev took the loss for New York, allowing two goals on 33 SOG. It was likely a frustrating game for Chris Kreider, who didn’t score despite four SOG and suffered a -4 rating.

Bruins – Rangers special teams battle

New York’s power play failures told the early part of the story.

Through the first two periods, the Rangers man advantage went 0-for-4. That number only tells part of the story, really. New York squandered a four-minute power play after Ryan Lindgren was bloodied by a high stick. Coyle dug the knife in deeper with that shorthanded goal later in the middle frame.

This Rangers team boasts some dangerous scorers, though, and Mika Zibanejad made that clear by breaking through. Zibanejad scored a power-play tally to tighten things up, with assists from usual suspects Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Bruins bolster Atlantic lead, Rangers see streak ended

Again, these two teams had been playing well lately.

Boston clearly hears the footsteps of the hard-charging Lightning. The Bruins extended their winning streak to three games, and have won nine of their last 10 games (9-1-0). This updated look at that battle for the top spot in the Atlantic reminds that this was a valuable, hard-fought win for the B’s:

Bruins: 86 points in 60 games played
Lightning: 83 points in 59 GP

The Bruins fattened their lead in the Atlantic, which also ranks as the current Presidents’ Trophy race. Of course, the Lightning can slim that right back down to one point with by winning their game in hand.

Meanwhile, the Rangers suffered a painful blow to their shaky playoff hopes, falling to 64 points in 58 GP. This loss ended the Rangers’ season-long four-game winning streak; it’s also merely the Rangers’ third loss in 10 games (7-3-0).

NBCSN Hockey Day in America remaining schedule

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Predators vs. Blues on Hockey Day in America

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game is the second of a back-to-back home-and-home between these clubs, with the Predators winning 4-3 on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis. Nashville led 2-0 after the first period and 3-1 in the second before the Blues came back to tie the game at 3-3. Mikael Granlund then scored the game- winner on the power play in the third period. Jake Allen started in goal for the Blues (23 saves on 27 shots).

The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues have hit their first major slump of the season, having lost four straight games and nine of their last 11 games (2-6-3). The Predators, on the other hand, have weathered a slow start to the season and are now very much in the playoff mix, just one point outside a Wild Card spot.

The Predators have won two straight games, beating the Islanders 5-0 on Thursday and the Blues 4-3 on Saturday. They have only won three straight games once this season with a four-game winning streak in October.

Despite leading Nashville to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, the sluggish start to the 2019-20 season was enough for the Predators to move on from Peter Laviolette, their second-ever head coach, and bring in John Hynes, whose head coaching experience consisted of leading the Devils for four-plus seasons (2015-16 to 2019-20) before being fired on December third after New Jersey lost 17 of its first 26 games.

The Blues have been one of the league’s best home teams this season but have lost more than half of their road games (14-10-5). They have lost eight of their last nine road games, including each of the last three.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators
WHERE: Bridgestone Arena
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 16, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blues-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennTyler Bozak
Zach SanfordRyan O'ReillyDavid Perron
Alex SteenRobert ThomasJordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevSammy Blais

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Colton ParaykoJustin Faulk
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

PREDATORS
Mikael Granlund – Ryan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Filip ForsbergMatt DucheneKyle Turris
Rocco GrimaldiNick BoninoCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokColton SissonsAustin Watson

Roman JosiYannick Weber
Jarred TinordiMattias Ekholm
Dan HamhuisDante Fabbro

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Host Liam McHugh and analysts Keith Jones, Anson Carter, and Brian Boucher will anchor pre-game, intermission, and post-game coverage throughout the day. Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.