Islanders’ success can’t be duplicated

New York Islanders

You have probably heard more than once over the years that the NHL is a copycat league. Or at least we like to think it is.

We latch on to the latest team that had success, pick out the traits about them that we like, and say, “well, that’s how you have to build your team now.”

If the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup? Everybody has to build a fast, skilled team.

The Washington Capitals or St. Louis Blues win it all? Heavy hockey is back!

Now that the New York Islanders are on their way to the league’s semifinals for the second year in a row, having advanced beyond the First Round for the third year in a row, there are no doubt general managers and executives all across the league trying to study them in an effort to duplicate their success. This is probably especially true for teams that do not have a ton of star power and are looking for ways to overcome that.

If the Islanders can do it, why can’t we play that way?

[Related: Islanders advance, eliminate Bruins]

But this is not really a team, or a style, that can be duplicated. At least not easily. Mostly because no other team has Barry Trotz, his coaching staff, the goalies they have, or this particularly perfectly imperfect group of players around them.

With Wednesday’s 6-2 win over the Boston Bruins, the Islanders have now won five playoff series over the past three years and 25 total playoff games. That total is just one win behind Tampa Bay and Boston for the most playoff wins over the past three years. All of that for an organization that in the 24 seasons prior had won only 16 playoff games and only one playoff series.

It has been a night and day transformation since the hiring of Trotz.

They have found that postseason success despite not having consistently great regular season performances. Since the start of the 2018-19 season the Islanders are 10th in the league in overall regular season points percentage, and the past two seasons have finished 11th and 12th in the league standings. Overall, that is still very good. Legitimate playoff team. But it does not necessarily scream “Stanley Cup Playoff powerhouse.” Especially the way they backed into the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.


They win with defense, having allowed the fewest goals in the NHL over the past three seasons. Again, a night-and-day transformation for a team that was 28th in goals against over the preceding three-year stretch, including last (30th out of 30) in the season immediately before this run began. The transformation has taken place with a roster that has a lot of the same players on it.

They also do not play like most dominant defensive teams. Yes, they can be suffocating at times. They can play with a lead.

But they also give up a lot of shots. And a lot of attempts. Sometimes they even give up a lot of chances. Most of the league’s dominant defensive teams in recent years did not do that. Whether it was the Joel Quenneville Blackhawks teams that were winning Stanley Cups, or the Patrice BergeronZdeno Chara Bruins, or the Darryl Sutter Kings, or even the recent Blues teams, they not only kept teams off the scoreboard, they did not let you generate any sort of consistent pressure or chances.

They also all had at least one superstar, Norris-level defender. With all due respect to the outstanding Adam PelechRyan Pulock pairing (and it is outstanding) the Islanders do not really have that, either.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]

The table below shows the top-10 teams in goals against over the past three seasons, and their league-wide ranks in shot attempts, shots against, scoring chances, and expected goals against (all situations via Natural Stat Trick) during that stretch.

They give up a lot of shots and chances for a team that gives up the fewest goals in the league.

The argument is that they keep things to the outside. And there is some truth to that, given the fact they are 23rd in shot attempts against but 10th in expected goals against. They have also blocked the second-most shots in the league during this stretch, making them only one of four teams in the top-15 in blocked shots to have made the playoffs in each of those three seasons (Colorado in 6th, Vegas in 11th, and Washington in 14th). Usually a lot of blocked shots means a lot of losing.

Even so, shots from the perimeter are still problematic. Goalies get screened. Rebounds get created. Shots get deflected. A lot of teams have found success like this over one year, and then cave in the next year.

The Islanders have not.

Goaltending is definitely a huge part of it, and if they have not had four goalies as good as they have the past three years maybe none of this works.

But another huge part of it is simply the fact Trotz knows what the heck he is doing, knows how to win in the playoffs, and knows how to get his team to buy into his style.

He has won at least one playoff series in each of his past nine playoff appearances. That level of consistency is almost unheard of in the NHL. Even great teams and coaches lose in the First Round regularly. Since the start of the 2011 postseason Trotz-coached teams have won 14 playoff series (most in the NHL for any coach during that stretch), been in the Final Four three times, and won a Stanley Cup.

He has done it with three different teams, built three different ways. His Nashville teams were built on defense. But it was superstar defensemen (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter). Washington was about superstar forwards and superstar talent.

In New York? He has one star forward (Mathew Barzal) and a group of very good, but not always great players that he has molded together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Have they been lucky at times? Definitely. But literally no team goes far in the playoffs without some luck along the way. It is an essential element of winning.

You also do not consistently advance in the playoffs this far based only on luck.

You have to have something that works. The Islanders do. It is just probably not something that is going to work for anybody else.

They play a unique style, with a unique coach, to produce a unique result.

They are different. You can not duplicate them.

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    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Caps 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

    Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

    “It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

    New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

    “I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

    “It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

    Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

    Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

    Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

    Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

    The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

    “We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

    Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

    NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


    Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

    Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night. —

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    Kings tie franchise mark with point in 11th straight game

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    Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

    LOS ANGELES — Viktor Arvidsson had two goals and the Los Angeles Kings matched their longest point streak in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

    Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Alex Iafallo netted a power-play goal for Los Angeles, which has earned points in 11 straight games for the fourth time. The last occurrence was 2013-14, when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles.

    Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for Winnipeg and Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves.

    Arvidsson – who has 22 goals on the season – has four in the last four games while Doughty has found the net four times in the last five games.

    Arvidsson’s first goal came 82 seconds into the game. Trevor Moore won the faceoff in the offensive zone and made a backhand pass to Arvidsson, who snapped it into the net from the back of the left faceoff circle.

    He also had an empty-net goal late in the third period.

    The Kings extended their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second period on the power play. Phillip Danault made a great pass between Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and Hellebuyck as Iafallo buried it into the short side of the net.

    Doughty extended the lead to 3-1 27 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from outside the right faceoff circle near the boards after Anze Kopitar won the faceoff.


    Winnipeg got its first power-play goal in seven games with 1:23 remaining in the second period when Dubois took a cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor and scored from the left faceoff circle to get the Jets within 2-1.

    The Jets got a five-minute power play after Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte received a five-minute match penalty for a vicious cross-check to Josh Morrissey’s face. The goal came with 33 seconds left in the man advantage.

    NOTES: Danault picked up his 300th career point and 200th assist. … Winnipeg’s Connor set a career high for most assists in a season when he got his 47th on Dubois’ goal.


    Jets: Travel to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

    Kings: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    Donald Page/Getty Images
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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”