Barry Trotz

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The Buzzer: Mantha among boys

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Three Stars

1. Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings

Well, the Predators should feel a little better on Sunday than they did on Saturday. The night before, Nashville fared about as well vs. Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi as normal pants hold up against Larkin in Detroit’s 5-3 win. They were stretched too thin and didn’t stand a chance, in other words.

Mantha was even tougher to stop on Sunday. Through the second period and the opening moments of the third, Mantha scored three goals in a row (a natural hat trick), flipping a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead for Detroit over Dallas. The Stars ended up tying the game, but it was all for naught, as Mantha scored the fourth goal, and ultimately the game-winner, with less than a minute remaining.

It’s probably unfair to label the game “Mantha 4, Stars 3,” but that does capture the goal-scoring. The big winger now has five goals and two assists for seven points in two games. Larkin and Filip Hronek factored into that win, too, with two assists apiece.

2. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

A lot was made about the Islanders moving on from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov during the offseason, and with good reason. Lehner was a revelation last season, and betting on Varlamov is pretty bold.

But for all the attention Lehner justifiably received for his work in 2018-19, Greiss put up numbers that were almost as outstanding, going 23-14-2 with a magnificent .927 save percentage.

Greiss began this season on a similar note, stopping 35 out of 36 shots from the Jets to help the Islanders beat Winnipeg handily on Sunday. So far, Barry Trotz’s system and the Islanders’ goalies are looking strong.

3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

There were plenty of worthy two-point performances on Sunday that you could argue for, including Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars, whose two goals gave his team a chance against the Mantha onslaught.

Hamilton’s all-around performance might have been the most worthy of the third star, though. He scored the goal that sent Sunday’s game to overtime, and also generated an assist. As mentioned in this post on that game against the Lightning, Hamilton is tied for the Hurricanes’ team points lead with four so far in 2019-20.

Hamilton generated three SOG, took a penalty, delivered a hit, and logged 25:19 TOI.

Highlight of the Night

Thanks to Mantha most of all, the Stars lost in regulation, falling to 0-3-0.

The Stars were about as close to sending the game to overtime as you could be, though, especially when Alexander Radulov was hacking away at Jonathan Bernier‘s pads during the waning seconds of the game. Bernier stood strong — or at least strong enough to survive the review process — and secured a perfect weekend for Detroit. Not bad, being that the Stars and Predators both made the playoffs last season, and brought significant expectations into 2019-20.

Factoids

  • Mantha joined John Sorrell (Nov. 12, 1933) and Brendan Shanahan (Oct. 16, 1998) as the only Red Wings to generate a natural hat trick. Sorrell and Mantha are the only two Red Wings to score four goals during a home-opener. (via NHL PR)
  • In coaching his 1,608th NHL game, Barry Trotz broke a tie with Al Arbour to be alone at third all-time. Trotz is only 30 behind Joel Quenneville, so it should be fascinating to see which of those two ends up with more games behind the bench once they’re both done.
  • NHL PR notes that the Hurricanes became the 13th team in league history to win their first three games while overcoming a deficit. The 2005-06 Predators and 1988-89 Kings are the two teams who’ve done it four times. They’re also the third team to start their season 3-0-0 with all three wins coming beyond regulation, according to Sportsnet stats.

Scores

CAR 4, TBL 3 (OT)
DET 4, DAL 3
NYI 4, WIN 1

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: Samsonov shines in Capitals’ debut; Konecny’s big day

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Three Stars

1. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers. After signing a new six-year contract a couple of weeks ago, Konecny was able to get off to a great start for the season when he scored a pair of goals in the Flyers’ 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. He opened the scoring early in the first period then added a highlight reel backhander (see below) later in the game to pad the Flyers’ lead. He has scored 24 goals in back-to-back seasons and they are expecting even bigger things from him this season.

2. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. It was a big night for the Capitals’ rookie goalie as he made his NHL debut and stopped 25 of thee 26 shots he faced in a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders. With Braden Holtby‘s contract situation unsettled beyond this season it is entirely possible that this is the first of many wins for the rookie netminder. He made a couple of highlight reel saves in the win, while the only goal he allowed was a complete fluke of a play.

3. Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets’ defense is a big point of concern this season and if that unit is going to make a positive impact they are going to need Pionk to have a big season. He had a huge game on Friday with two points, including the game-tying goal in the third period to help complete the Jets’ late rally as they spoiled Jack Hughes‘ NHL debut.

Highlights of the Night

There were a couple of incredible goals on Friday, starting with Travis Konecny’s highlight reel goal against the Blackhawks.

Auston Matthews continued his fast start to the season with this absolute rocket of a shot in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The goal of the night, however, belonged to Devils forward Blake Coleman, scoring his second goal of the game on a completely ridiculous one-handed shot.

Blooper of the Night

The only goal Samsonov surrendered on Friday night was this wild mess of a play that saw the puck bounce off multiple Capitals’ player skates. This goes in the books as a goal for Islanders defender Devon Toews, but he needed a lot of help.

Factoids

  • Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury became the 16th goalie to appear in 800 regular season NHL games. [NHL PR]
  • Friday night was just the second time Jets franchise has overcome a 4-0 deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • It came in a losing effort, but Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson scored in his sixth consecutive season opening game. [NHL PR]
  • The Golden Knights became just the 14th team in NHL history to record a shorthanded goal in each of their first two games of a season. They scored two shorthanded goals in their rout of the Sharks. Tomas Nosek scored two goals in the win, including one of the shorthanded tallies.  [NHL PR]
  • New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz told Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time games coached list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3

Washington Capitals 2, New York Islanders 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (SO)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 1

Vegas Golden Knights 5, San Jose Sharks 1

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Islanders continue to do things their way — sometimes boldly

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As much as the New York Islanders’ mantra was “We above me,” Lou Lamoriello’s front office continues to send a specific message: “My way or the highway.”

The demotion of Josh Ho-Sang cements such a thought process, but it’s a motto that reverberates through decisions both big and small.

One could understand why the 2018-19 season would leave Lamoriello, head coach Barry Trotz, and other Islanders people — including fans — feeling almost beyond criticism. After all, even the most optimistic onlookers didn’t see 103-point season and sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins coming.

It makes their approach to 2019-20 even more fascinating, which is saying something because it was already interesting to see if Trotz & Co. could work their magic for another year.

In the case of Ho-Sang, it’s a bit confounding to think that he wouldn’t offer more to the Islanders than, say, Tom Kuhnhackl or Ross Johnston. Then again, it’s stunning that the winger-starved Edmonton Oilers didn’t claim Ho-Sang off of waivers, not to mention plenty of other teams who could use a burst of creativity, and maybe underrated all-around play.

The past few days indicate that the Islanders aren’t really outliers when it comes to Ho-Sang, but demoting the 23-year-old in a hockey version of “Groundhog Day” is far from the boldest decision this front office made.

Instead, we’ll all be watching closely to see how the Islanders fare in net.

In 2018-19, Robin Lehner authored one of the NHL’s most stunning turnarounds, going from a Sabres castoff with personal issues to a Vezina Trophy finalist, winning the Masterton Trophy and sharing the William Jennings with Thomas Greiss, a goalie who saw an even more dramatic improvement in stats under Trotz.

You’d think that the Islanders would want to bring back the duo that combined for the best save percentage in the entire NHL, but the Islanders are instead betting big on their view of the league, the goalies involved, and above all else, themselves.

In a process that remains a little bewildering, the Islanders let Lehner walk to the Blackhawks, who signed him to a fairly low-risk deal of one year, $5 million. Instead of seeing if the 28-year-old could come close to replicating last year’s breakthrough, the Islanders are betting that Mitch Korn and Piero Greco can resuscitate Semyon Varlamov in the same way they breathed life into Lehner’s career.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EASTERN CONFERENCE / WESTERN CONFERENCE / STANLEY CUP]

On paper, it’s almost as brave as picking the Islanders to make the playoffs last season.

Varlamov is 31, and not a penny cheaper than the younger Lehner. While both register a $5M cap hit, Varlamov’s runs through 2022-23.

While Varlamov’s enjoyed some nice peaks during his career, things have been dicey recently, for the most part. His .909 save percentage from 2018-19 left a lot to be desired, and while he managed a strong .920 in 2017-18, Varlamov’s .898 save percentage from 2016-17 was especially rotten.

It’s popular to say that “goalies are voodoo,” as the position is mystifyingly difficult to predict. Even by those standards, the Islanders are making an audacious gamble that they’re right, while others are wrong. As much as anything else, the term they handed to Varlamov is what stands out as especially … courageous. Where they took a low-risk flier on Lehner before (and the Blackhawks are doing now), they’re not getting the escape hatch with Varlamov if his 2018-19 season was a sign of bad things to come.

And, again, there’s a theme in play that the Islanders’ experienced front office of Lamoriello and Trotz can get it done, and march to the beat of their old-fashioned drums.

Then again, maybe they’re starting to see things a bit differently?

Back in June, Shayna Goldman detailed NHL front offices (sub required), listing the Islanders as one of the only teams without a dedicated analytics staffer, but a recent update paints an interesting picture.

Lamoriello’s downplayed the benefits of such mindsets before, so this alteration makes for another thing to watch.

Expectations are higher for the Islanders heading into 2019-20, yet many of the same doubts linger, especially after the polarizing decision to replace Lehner with Varlamov. Whether those choices work out, fall apart, or fall somewhere in the middle, it should all be interesting to watch.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Sustainability, Ho-Sang’s development are top questions for Islanders

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

1. Can they do it again?

After losing John Tavares and not really doing anything significant to replace him on the ice expectations were understandably low for the 2018-19 Islanders. They ended up shattering all of them, made the playoffs, advanced to the second round for the second time since 1993, and were one of the biggest surprises in the league.

The question, then, is obvious: Can they do it again and build off of that success?

The most shocking part of the turnaround was that the Islanders went from being the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best in just one season. That is where the question of sustainability comes in. While it is easy to point to Barry Trotz and his defensive system as the cause of the turnaround, the reality is the Islanders were blessed with an outstanding goaltending performance from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss that masked a lot of flaws. Can Greiss repeat his performance? Can Semyon Varlamov stay healthy enough and be good enough to match what Lehner did? If the answer to those questions turns out to be no, it could put a pretty significant dent in the Islanders’ ability to prevent goals.

This season will be a big test for just how much Trotz’s system and approach really improved the Islanders because they are bringing back largely the same team, except with a potentially lesser goalie.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

2. Who is going to score the goals?

It was a good thing for the Islanders that they were so good defensively last year because their offense was not particularly good. They finished the regular season 22nd in goals scored, 29th in shots on goal per game, and 29th on the power play. Among the 16 playoff teams no team was worse in those same areas.

What did the Islanders do to address that this offseason? Nothing.

They did manage to retain all of their top free agent forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) but they did not add a significant piece from outside the organization while several teams around them in their own division made significant additions.

There is reason to believe Mathew Barzal can have a bigger season, and that will certainly help. But Valtteri Filppula‘s 17 goals walked out the door in free agency and it seems possible, if not likely, that Casey Cizikas will regress after a completely unexpected 20 goal performance.

3. Will this be Josh Ho-Sang’s year?

One thing that could really help the Islanders’ offense? Josh Ho-Sang putting everything together and becoming a regular in the lineup. Ho-Sang’s young career with the Islanders has been a tumultuous one to this point as he’s never fully gained the trust of any of his coaches (or the organization as a whole) despite having a ton of talent and potential.

His offensive skills have never been in doubt, and he’s actually produced at a pretty solid rate at the NHL level. He has 24 points in 53 career games, a per-game average that comes out to around 37 points over 82 games. It may not seem like an eye-popping number, but keep in mind that only four Islanders recorded more than 37 points last season, and Ho-Sang has produced those numbeers despite getting limited minutes in his brief NHL action.

But his all-around game has never seemed to develop enough for the organization to fully commit to him. He just re-signed on a one-year contract on Monday and can not be sent to the American Hockey League without passing through waivers, so this is probably a make-or-break year for him with the Islanders.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.