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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.”

Isles’ Josh Bailey finds redemption in Game 1 vs. Penguins

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Josh Bailey could have left Nassau Coliseum Wednesday night ready to relive a Game 1 nightmare as he slept.

A little over a minute after Justin Schultz tied the game at three late in the third period, Bailey had a golden opportunity with seconds remaining to be the hero for the New York Islanders’ in their Stanley Cup playoff series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But then he heard the worst sound in hockey.

CLINK!

“It just happened so quick. It didn’t lay very flat with me, I was just trying to whack it and hope it went in,” Bailey said afterward.

Bailey, who had only two goals in his previous 20 games entering Wednesday, could have pleaded to the hockey gods and asked what he did to earn such tough luck. Instead, he shook it off and pounced on a rebound after Mathew Barzal hit the post in overtime to give the Islanders a 4-3 win in Game 1.

“I saw the puck just laying there and I was pissed, I obviously thought the chance had ended and see Bails come in and swoop in,” Barzal said. “[I] was just super happy to see that. Awesome for him.”

“You can’t get down on yourself in those situations, as hard as it is,” said Bailey. “Sometimes you want it so bad when it happens, you’ve got to find a way to turn the page. I think that’s just gotten easier over time.”

The Islanders have found a way to battle through adversity put in their way this season. Overcoming those challenges when times get tough begins with an experienced, Stanley Cup winning coach behind the bench. Barry Trotz had plenty of downs in his NHL coaching career before winning a title with the Washington Capitals last season. Coming to Long Island, he was joining a team that had missed the playoffs again and lost their franchise player. But he helped the franchise turn the page to a new chapter, one that surprised the hockey world with a 103-point season.

The challenges put in the Islanders’ way in Game 1 were answered each and every time.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Seven minutes after Phil Kessel quickly evened the score at one in the first period, Brock Nelson beat Matt Murray on the power play to regain the lead. Nick Leddy answered Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal to tie the game at two midway through the third period. Then it was Bailey earning redemption with his overtime heroics after Schultz’s forced the extra period with 1:29 left in regulation.

(You can also add Tom Kuhnhackl’s goal 33 seconds into the game being called back due to offside, and then a second-period opportunity that was deemed to be no goal by the officials after a review to the list of setbacks the Islanders faced in Game 1.)

“That’s just hockey sometimes, especially in the playoffs you’re going to experience those things. It’s all about how you respond,” said Bailey.

Now the Islanders head into Friday’s Game 2 with a chance to take a firm grasp of the series. They proved on Wednesday that they can handle the spotlight of playoff hockey and the momentum roller coaster that comes with it.

“There was a lot of twists and turns in that game,” said Trotz. “They just stayed with it. I like that our group, they didn’t flinch at all which is good. Close games we’ve learned to be comfortable, and there’s going to be close games in the playoffs.”

Islanders-Penguins Game 2 from Nassau Coliseum will be Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders beat Penguins in OT, take 1-0 series lead

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Don’t call it an upset, the Islanders hosted Game 1 … and won it.

After failing to protect a late one-goal lead in the third period, and seeing a potential overtime-winner overturned, the Islanders finally beat the Penguins 4-3 in OT, securing a 1-0 series lead.

The game-winner was a thriller, as this time, the Islanders stayed onside. Mathew Barzal created havoc before taking a dangerous shot. Matt Murray was able to stop it, but Josh Bailey managed to score the game-winner from an odd angle. Just like that, an ecstatic Islanders crowd erupted, and this time, the goal counted.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Islanders locked down the rare treat of opening this Round 1 series at Nassau Coliseum, aka their cozier, grungier, beloved home on Long Island. Their fans said “Yes!” at the surprising opportunity, providing a boisterous atmosphere. Delightfully, the two teams matched that energy with a testy, well-played, back-and-forth contest.

To the eternal chagrin of Oilers fans, Jordan Eberle did a lot better than his zero playoff goals during the Edmonton run that essentially ran him out of town. Eberle scored the 1-0 goal after the Isles saw a different tally overturned, and he also assisted on the 2-1 goal. Phil Kessel continues to be a force in the postseason, as he scored Pittsburgh’s first goal and assisted on Evgeni Malkin‘s 2-2 tally.

When Nick Leddy made it 3-2 with a seeing-eye wobbler, it seemed like the Islanders might secure the win. After all, Robin Lehner‘s been outstanding all season, and it just felt like the story to tell.

Justin Schultz said no, though. His goal (which was fairly similar to Leddy’s) came with 1:29 remaining in the third period, and overtime it would be.

Early in the overtime period, Tom Kuhnhackl bowled over Murray attempting to score the winning goal. There was a review process, and it was ruled no goal. Kuhnhackl, a former Penguins winger, seemed to also score a 1-0 goal that was overturned as offside. If nothing else, Kuhnhackl was busy against his former team.

And, hey, he got the last laugh. At least in Game 1.

Islanders-Penguins Game 2 from Nassau Coliseum will be Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Pastrnak on injury; Nashville’s Turris problem

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

David Pastrnak on his thumb injury: “Obviously I let the guys down a bit. It’s a tough time. It’s not an injury that happened on the ice, so I took full responsibility for that. That’s what hurt me most. Could I have avoided it? I wish [that I had]. But obviously things happen. The fact that I could let somebody down, I definitely hate that. The first couple of weeks were tough.” [NBC Boston]

• Just in time as the playoffs approach, James Neal returns to the Calgary Flames after a 14-game absence, hoping to find his scoring touch again. [NHL.com]

• When the postseason does arrive, who will get the starting gig in net for the Flames? [Featurd]

• A good look at the teams playing well with the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a month away. [TSN]

• Playoffs might be out of reach but the Vancouver Canucks are now acting as a spoiler. [Sportsnet]

• Meet the only female full-time Zamboni driver in the NHL. [ESPN]

• The younger members of the St. Louis Blues are really enjoying this playoff push. [Post-Dispatch]

• The San Jose Sharks are trying not to think too far into the future when it comes to a possible first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights. [NBC Bay Area]

Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy need to give more to the New York Islanders as the playoffs approach. [Islanders Insight]

• Examining who’s chasing and possessing the puck the most for the Columbus Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• The Nashville Predators have a Kyle Turris problem. [A to Z Sports]

• A product of the “Ovechkin Effect” in Washington D.C., the Capitals signed Yale product and local boy Joe Snively on Monday. [Japers’ Rink]

• Which AHL players could step up and make an impact with the Edmonton Oilers? [Oilers Nation]

• Finally, there were a good number of bloopers in the NHL over the last week:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Oilers’ CEO not a fan of Connor McDavid suspension

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The Edmonton Oilers are none too pleased with the National Hockey League’s decision to suspend Connor McDavid two games for his headshot on New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy on Thursday night.

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson defended McDavid during a meeting with the media on Saturday before the team took to the ice for their pre-game skate.

“We’re really disappointed with the NHL’s decision,” Nicholson said. “This is a first-time offense for Connor. Everyone knows Connor is a skilled player and I thought he did a very good job explaining what he was doing before there was contact with Leddy.”

The hit in question took place at the 17:32 mark of the first period. McDavid was handed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play. Leddy stayed down for a bit and was summoned for concussion testing but returned for the second period and played out the rest of the game.

McDavid went on to score the overtime winner in a 4-3 win.

Nicholson said McDavid’s intent heading into the hit was to strip the puck from Leddy and when he realized he couldn’t do that, became small and didn’t try to level Leddy.

Nicholson then argued the hit’s principle point of contact (although it clearly was) wasn’t the head.

“I thought the contact started at the chest and there was a deflection into the head but it was a slight deflection into the head,” Nicholson said.

McDavid figured he wouldn’t be suspended prior to the hearing and figured he raised some good points about the hit, but said that once he heard the tone of the voice once in the meeting, he knew that wouldn’t be the case.

“I think a lot of times, you go in and they already have their mind made up,” McDavid said. “They don’t really care what you have to say.”

McDavid said it’s frustrating given that it’s a crucial time for the Oilers. Edmonton sits eight points back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wildcard in the Western Conference heading into Saturday’s action. The Oilers battle the Ducks later on in the day, who are one point ahead of them in the standings. Edmonton needs to leapfrog six teams over their next 22 games to head to the playoffs.

Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels McDavid deserved better but said the team can’t worry about it right now.

“We just have to keep going,” Hitchcock said. “Fighting the fight isn’t going to do us any good right now.

What goes on, suspension-wise, I’m even sure I know all the rules, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said.

McDavid was non-committal on appealing the decision. Nicholson said he didn’t think McDavid would.


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