Johnny Boychuk

Lee’s lead-by-example captaincy garners results for Islanders

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The New York Islanders could have played it safe a year ago when John Tavares bolted for Toronto.

But head coach Barry Trotz recognized an obvious candidate to fill a leadership role and didn’t hesitate to follow his instincts.

Anders Lee was in position to leave the organization as he headed toward unrestricted free agency and could have been the second captain in as many seasons to walk out the door.

But that didn’t stop Trotz from announcing Lee as the 15th captain in franchise history and the team is benefiting today from that important decision last season.

Lee changed the direction of the game with a critical goal in the early part of the first period in the Islanders’ 5-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday. The team’s seven-game winning streak is the longest (in a single season) since they won nine straight in the 1989-90 season per team statistician Eric Hornick.

The 29-year-old power forward won a race to the corner to help the Islanders establish possession in the offensive zone, then beat Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim to the back post to even the score at 3:17 of the first period.

”He’s our leader,” fourth-line center Casey Cizikas said. ”When you see him and he plays like that, getting to pucks, taking the body, fight in those dirty areas, you want to follow him. That’s what you want in your captain and he has done a tremendous job at leading us.”

The Islanders followed in Lee’s footsteps, scoring four of the next five goals as the team climbed to second place in the Metropolitan Division on the back of a seven-game winning streak following a 1-3-0 start to the season.

“You always look to your leadership and they’re going to set the tone,” Trotz said. “His (Lee) goal was a great example of leadership. Leadership is, you don’t have a license to do less, you have a responsibility to do more. He knew it was a big game, and he did more.”

The culture surrounding the Islanders has changed radically since Lou Lamoriello and Trotz arrived on Long Island. The Islanders have posted a 55-30-7 record and won a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for only the second time since the 1992-93 season.

[RELATED: In-depth look at Isles’ winning streak | Isles on the rise in Power Rankings]

The Islanders have established an identity over that time as a defensively sound team that frustrates opponents. But their mental toughness has been the team’s attribute that has seen the most significant improvement.

Take Sunday for example. Flyers forward Jakub Voracek scored 1:07 into the game and the Islanders didn’t blink.

”It didn’t affect us.” Trotz said of the early deficit. ”I thought our minds were in the right place. I don’t think it even fazed us.”

One of Lee’s most impressive traits is that he does a tremendous job creating a familial atmosphere that translates to success on and off the ice.

“We play for each other, it’s been a lot of fun,” said Derick Brassard.

Trotz and Lamoriello have played a large part in helping the Islanders form a new identity, but that message gets lost in the shuffle if a group of players is not able to relay the same information to their peers. Veterans Johnny Boychuk, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck have been able to assist, but they are clearly following in the footsteps of Lee.

The organization took a gamble naming Lee captain at the start of last season, a risk that is paying huge dividends today.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The Buzzer: Hurricanes remain unbeaten; Sabres overcome late rally vs. Panthers

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Three Stars

1. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes. Rod Brind’Amour has allowed his defenseman to play up in the zone and not be afraid to take chances. Hamilton registered an assist on the opening goal of the Hurricanes’ 5-2 win against the Islanders when he delivered a beautiful cross-ice pass to set up Teuvo Teravainen. Then, added a goal of his own when he launched a one-timer from the point. Carolina has wins in five consecutive games and are out to prove that last year was not a fluke.

2. Dallas Eakins, Anaheim Ducks coach. He waited a long time for another opportunity in the NHL and through the early going of the season, he has pressed the right buttons as Anaheim skated to a 2-1 victory against Columbus. The Ducks have started the season 4-1, including a road trip that had three games in four nights. Eakins has had his team ready to play every night and is looking to take advantage of a wide-open Pacific Division. Ryan Miller added 26 saves in his season debut, which always helps the coach look good.

3. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. The sniper knotted the game against Buffalo with a sneaky wrist shot late in the third period against Buffalo. Ultimately, the Panthers fell in a shootout after Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov failed to score. Hoffman is off to a terrific start with five goals in four games and is poised to benefit greatly from Joel Quenneville taking over behind the bench. Florida is expected to create some chaos in the Atlantic Division, and Hoffman playing like this can only help.

Highlights of the Night

Hamilton had no qualms about taking the puck from his own blueline and generating an odd-man rush opportunity. Then, he led Teravianen perfectly to help the Hurricanes open the scoring on Friday.

Casey Mittelstadt went to the backhand to beat Sergei Bobrovsky in the shootout and clinch the victory for the Sabres.

Blooper of the Night

Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk netted his first goal of the season when he hammered a slap shot past Petr Mrazek. But the highlight came when he took off his glove and aimed it right between the pipes. Former teammate Robin Lehner also got a kick out of the celebration.

Factoids

  • Ryan Getzlaf becomes the Ducks franchise leader in games played with 989, passing Corey Perry.
  • Ducks have allowed one goal or fewer in four of their first five games for the first time in franchise history [Sportsnet Stats]
  • Hamilton’s seven points through Carolina’s first five games is tied for most by a defenseman in Hurricanes/Whalers franchise history [NHL PR]
  • The Sabres extended their season-opening point streak to five games (4-0-1), their longest such run since 2009-10. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Skinner‘s goal tonight gives him at least a point in three straight games (3G, 1A) and eight points (5G, 3A) in five games against the Panthers since he joined the Sabres. [Sabres PR]

Scores
Anaheim Ducks 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Buffalo Sabres 3, Florida Panthers 2 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 5, New York Islanders 2

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Islanders look to keep improving in second year under Trotz

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The New York Islanders know about the moves other teams in the Metropolitan Division made in the offseason. It just doesn’t matter to them.

After finishing second in the division and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders return mostly the same roster and are confident they can be successful again in the second year under team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

”You look at our division, and you talk about teams definitely got better,” forward Jordan Eberle said Thursday at media day. ”The additions they made, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. The nice thing with our group, we know what to expect. It’s just a matter of putting in the work, playing the right way.”

Thanks to a defensive-minded system in Trotz’s first year with the team, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan at 48-27-7. They followed that with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemingly went their way. After a 10-day layoff to start the next round, nothing went New York’s way as the Islanders couldn’t rediscover their scoring touch and were swept by Carolina.

”I don’t think you ever really get over it,” captain Anders Lee said of the series loss. ”You learn from it and you take away from it what you can, but it’s always going to be there.”

The Islanders pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency to bolster the offense, but he decided to sign with the crosstown-rival Rangers. Still, the Islanders retained most of their own free agents, including Eberle, Lee and Brock Nelson

”I am not a believer in change for the sake of change,” Lamoriello said. ”We looked at our team and we felt the players that we wanted to bring back we were able to do that. … We’re happy with the people we have right now.”

After a different head coach in each of the previous three training camps, the Islanders have some continuity this year. They know what to expect with Trotz and look to replicate what they did well last season.

More things to know as the Islanders head into their first on-ice sessions on Friday:

GOALIES: One big change was made in goal, with the addition of veteran Semyon Varlamov to replace Vezina Trophy finalist and fan-favorite Robin Lehner. That gives Thomas Greiss his third goalie partner in three seasons. Greiss and Lehner were solid all season, sharing the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league.

Greiss enters the final year of his contract with Ilya Sorokin’s move from the KHL a possibility next season. Greiss was 23-14-2 with five shutouts, a .927 save-percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in 43 games last season. In four seasons with the Islanders, he is 85-51-13 with 10 shutouts, a .916 save-percentage and 2.69 GAA over 162 games.

Varlamov, who has started all but 17 of 448 games he’s appeared in over his 11-year career with Washington and Colorado, is coming off a 20-19-9 season with two shutouts, a .909 save-percentage and 2.87 GAA in 49 games for the Avalanche.

EYES ON DOBSON: A strong team defense was the Islanders’ blueprint last season, and they return seven defenseman in Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews. Noah Dobson will get a long look in camp, but is a long shot to make the roster – barring a major injury or trade involving one of the entrenched top-seven in the unit.

”There’s a lot of good defensemen,” Boychuk said. ”So it’s just the competition, pushing each other to be the best we can.”

Toews had a strong camp a year ago, but began the season with Bridgeport of the AHL before being called up in December. If the 19-year-old Dobson, selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, doesn’t make the opening-day roster, he must be sent back to juniors.

WAITING FOR BELMONT: The Islanders will be entering the second season of an expected three-year arrangement to split home games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center while a new arena is built at Belmont Park. The target start is the 2021-22 season.

Construction at the new site hasn’t begun, and the town of Floral Park filed a lawsuit this week to stop the project. However, Lamoriello was confident the arena will be built on time.

”My understanding is … everything is on schedule,” Lamoriello said. ”I have total confidence it will be there when they say it will be.”

Rested Islanders ready to go against Hurricanes in second round

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders are rested and ready to go. The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t had a chance to relax after outlasting the defending champions in a marathon seven-game series.

More than a week after finishing off a sweep in the first round, Mathew Barzal and the defense-first Islanders get set to open the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the upstart Hurricanes.

”It was a long wait,” Barzal said. ”We’ve been practicing hard, practicing some scrimmage stuff. … We’re just anxious to get it going again.”

New York has not played since dispatching Pittsburgh on April 16, while the Hurricanes took Washington to the limit with the deciding game lasting into a second overtime Wednesday night. Now, less than 48 hours later, the teams will meet in the postseason for the first time.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz didn’t mind the layoff because it allowed some banged-up players like Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield a chance to heal. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, however, remains sidelined for several weeks.

”We just want to play,” Trotz said. ”There might be some rust and you can’t duplicate some stuff (in practice), but I know we’re toeing to get stronger and stronger and stronger.”

The Islanders will be back at Barclays Center in Game 1 for the first time in more than two months. They split regular-season games between the Brooklyn arena, where they have played since 2015, and the Nassau Coliseum, their home the previous 43 years. The Islanders last played at Barclays on Feb. 16. Their home games in the first round were in Uniondale, but any subsequent games they host this postseason will be in Brooklyn.

Both teans are here after surprising seasons and stunning victories in the opening round. In the first year under Trotz, the Islanders used a strong defensive system, timely scoring and some stellar goaltending to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence and following the departure of former captain John Tavares in free agency last summer. New York held off Pittsburgh down the stretch to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and then quickly disposed of the Penguins.

Carolina, which missed the playoffs for nine straight years, was 15-17-5 on Dec. 30 and one point out of last place in the East before going 31-12-2 the rest of the way. The Hurricanes then won a grueling series against the Capitals, marking the first time in NHL history all four division winners were eliminated in the first round.

”The biggest challenge is going to be switching gears,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”We’ve been going real hard here for a couple weeks. Obviously all that emotion. To throw that away and focus on a whole new opponent, different style, that’ll be the biggest challenge.”

The teams both use a tenacious defense to try and smother opponents’ chances and generate scoring opportunities for themselves. The Islanders allowed a league-low 2.33 goals per game during the season, while the Hurricanes were tied for seventh at 2.70.

Jordan Eberle led the Islanders in the first round with four goals and two assists, giving him nine goals and three assists in his last 11 games dating back to the regular season. Brock Nelson, who had 25 goals and 28 assists during the season, scored three against the Penguins. Anders Lee (28 goals, 23 assists), Josh Bailey (16 goals, 40 assists) and Barzal (18 goals, 44 assists) also had 50-point seasons.

”They’re patient,” Brind’Amour said. ”(They) play that defensive game and when you crack is when they go.”

Warren Foegele had a team-high four goals in the first round and was tied with Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Staal – who each had three goals and three assists. Teuvo Terraivanen also scored three goals, and Jaccob Flavin had nine assists to lead the team in points.

Some things to know as the teams open the conference semifinals Friday night:

HELLO, AGAIN: Carolina’s Justin Williams and Calvin de Haan will be seeing some familiar faces in this series. The 37-year-old Williams spent two seasons under Trotz with the Capitals before returning for a second stint with Carolina in 2017. Williams had an assist on Brock McGinn‘s series-winning goal against Washington, giving him an NHL-record 15 points in Game 7s of the playoffs.

”A great leader,” Trotz said. ”And he doesn’t get small in the big moments.”

De Haan was selected by the Islanders in the first round of the 2009 draft – the same year Tavares was taken No. 1 overall – and spent the previous five-plus seasons with New York before he signed with the Hurricanes last summer.

GOALIES: Robin Lehner has taken the reins as the lead goalie for the Islanders after splitting time with Thomas Greiss during the season when the duo paired to win the William Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league. Lehner – a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average and six shutouts – played every minute of New York’s sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round. He limited the Penguins to just six goals on 156 shots.

Carolina’s Petr Mrazek had an uneven first round, He struggled on the road, giving up 13 goals on 78 shots in Hurricanes losses in Games 1, 2 and 5, but was stellar at home while limiting the Capitals to only three goals on 74 shots in wins in Games 3, 4 and 6. In Game 7 back in Washington, he gave up three goals on 18 shots before stopping the last 19 to allow the Hurricanes to rally from two goals down.

SECOND-ROUND STRANGERS: After missing the playoffs in eight of the last 11 years, the Islanders are coming off their second postseason series win since 1993. This is Carolina’s second time in the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals in their last time in the postseason three years later.

SEASON SERIES: The Islanders won three of four meetings, including both visits to Carolina in October. New York also won 4-1 at Barclays Center on Nov. 24, before Carolina took the last meeting 4-3 at the Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 8.

Freelance writer Denis P. Gorman contributed to this report.

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

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

Playoff lineup, injury notes: Islanders lose Boychuk; Flames scratch Neal

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There were quite a few noteworthy lineup notes surrounding teams in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday, so let’s rattle them off.

Thomas Hickey seems to be the most likely immediate replacement for Boychuk. While both defensemen have enjoyed some nice years in the NHL, both have been on the decline. Hickey was limited to zero goals and four assists in 40 games this season after generally coming in at 20-ish points during his previous five campaigns with the Isles, while Boychuk’s ice time was down to 16:16 minute per game during the Islanders’ Round 1 sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the loss of Boychuk likely has more name value than on-ice impact.

Speaking of name value, allow a moment to dream. What if the Islanders instead turn to other Sebastian Ahoand the Hurricanes advance with far more famous Sebastian Aho? Would the Internet be forced to come up with something fresher than the Spiderman pointing meme for that? Might want to do some prep with all this time on your hands, Islanders fans.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

  • Maybe the Capitals feel like they need to bring back a playoff hero after seeing their 2-0 series lead against said Hurricanes dissolve into a 2-2 tie? They recalled Devante Smith-Pelly on Friday. Smith-Pelly scored eight points in 54 NHL games with the Capitals this season, and had been fairly productive (14 points in 20 games) with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. His seven goals during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run matched his seven goals from that 2017-18 regular season, so if DSP can carry over some of that playoff magic starting with Game 5 (Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC [livestream]), the Caps would be very pleased. He’ll certainly be fighting to stay at the top level …
  • Could the Predators (another team locked in a 2-2 series tie) get some reinforcements back a lot sooner than anticipated? Both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds were recently considered week-to-week, and perhaps that was always a nebulous descriptor, as they at least were able to practice on Friday.

Interestingly, each player was wearing regular practice jerseys, which bodes reasonably well for the future, as that indicates that they could take body contact. There’s an enormous gulf between being able to practice and being ready for the sometimes-traumatic damage of playoff hockey, yet this is all pretty promising for the Preds.

With the Flames down 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche and facing elimination in Game 5 on Friday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, live stream) this team badly needs a spark, and Neal really hasn’t been providing much of one basically since signing with the Flames. Neal failed to score a point through the first four games of this series, suffering through a -3 plus/minus, just 13:49 TOI on average, and not really excelling from a possession stats standpoint, either.

[To be fair, Neal is joined by Johnny Gaudreau and others as struggling Flames.]

One wonders if the Flames need to give Neal a pat on the back and say “We’ll get things back on track soon enough.” As mediocre as he’s been across the board, Neal also suffered from a terrible season luck-wise, managing just a five shooting percentage, way below his career average of 11.6. Maybe some of that is the aging curve, and maybe he’s depended upon some stellar linemates to grab his counting stats, but you’d have to figure that there’s some potential for a rebound … eventually. Perhaps just not this season?

Either way, it looks like Austin Czarnik is replacing Neal in the lineup. Hockey comes at you fast, gang.

For a rundown of Friday’s slate of playoff action, check out The Wraparound.

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.