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 looking forward, not taking series lead vs. Penguins for granted

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Barry Trotz is very familiar with the situation the Pittsburgh Penguins face being down 0-2 in their Round 1 series against the New York Islanders.

During opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Trotz’ Washington Capitals dropped the first two games of their series with the Columbus Blue Jackets before rebounding to win the next four to advance. The Islanders have a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven matchup with the Penguins following Friday’s 3-1 victory, but as the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Sunday’s Game 3 (12 p.m. ET; NBC), things can quickly take a dramatic shift.

“We understand that we won a couple of games here but you have to win four,” Trotz said after Game 2. “You can’t take anything for granted.”

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk has played 99 NHL playoff games, second-most on the Islanders behind Valtteri Filppula’s 160. He’s played in two Stanley Cup Finals and has been through many roller coaster series. His message to his teammates right now is pretty simple.

“Forget about the last two games,” he said. “They’re going to be coming hard in their building and we have to be ready for them because they’re a good team and have very good forwards and ‘D’. We have to be ready.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Through his vast NHL experience, Trotz will have them ready because his team will be facing a Penguins roster desperate to get back into the series and avoid an 0-3 hole. Like Wednesday night, Game 2 was a tight game, but the Islanders, after getting away from their aggressive forechecking style during portions of Game 1, got back to their successful formula in Game 2, forcing Pittsburgh into a sloppy, turnover-filled night.

“We kind of learned a little bit of a lesson, that first one,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “We got away from our game a little bit in that second period and we knew tonight that we can maintain our game plan for as long as possible and put ourselves in a good position.”

Even after a surprising 103-point regular season, some figured the Penguins’ star power would be too much to overcome in the series. Through two games, the script has been flipped. There’s still so much hockey left to play, but the Islanders are hitting the road taking the confidence and chemistry that’s brought them success this season with them.

“This room is a strong room, close room, one that sticks together,” said Lee. “I think we’re showing it there on the ice.”

MORE: Bailey, Eberle help Islanders take commanding 2-0 series lead

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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.

Flyers’ Voracek to appeal two-game suspension

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Jakub Voracek’s feelings on being suspended two games by the NHL for his hit on New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk Saturday night were summed up in five simple emojis:

Voracek was assessed a major for interference. Boycuk did not return to the game and has been ruled out of the Islanders’ game on Monday against Columbus.

The Philadelphia Flyers forward is taking his displeasure with the Department of Player Safety one step forward by appealing the two-game ban, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Voracek will travel to the NHL’s offices in New York City on Tuesday afternoon in hopes of having the suspension reduced to one game or wiped out entirely.

“He’s pointing at me like it’s WrestleMania or something,” Voracek said after the game. “Come on, it’s a hockey game. This is a guy who was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year at the end of the game, and he’s going to do that. Give me a break.”

“I don’t think Jake has any wrong intentions there. He’s trying to protect himself,” said Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon. “The guy is sprinting in on him hard. It’s not like it was a 50/50 puck, where he’s waiting for him to come to him and step into him. He clearly sees that the guy coming and he’s trying to brace himself.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Voracek’s appeal. The process will stop after Bettman’s decision as only suspensions of six games or more allow the player to appeal to a neutral arbitrator.

Voracek will remain out through the duration of the two-game suspension as he appeals.

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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

Sabres’ Eichel, Flyers’ Voracek facing hearings after Saturday hits

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety will be busy on Sunday.

Forwards Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers will be asked to explain their actions in their respective games on Saturday after two massive hits.

Eichel’s came in the second period of a 3-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. He and Carl Soderberg were chasing down a loss puck in the neutral zone when Eichel took his shoulder and laid it square into Soderberg’s chin, forcing the latter to leave the game temporarily.

Eichel was given a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head on the play, which can be seen here around the one-minute mark:

Eichel had enough, he admitted after the game.

Nikita Zadorov drilled him in the first period (a hit you can see from the beginning of the above video) after an offside whistle had already been blown.

“He hits me after they (bleeping), excuse my language, blow the whistle,” Eichel told the Buffalo News following in the game. “That’s whatever.

“I thought he was just reaching. I don’t know. I’d have to look at it, to be honest with you. I’m trying to protect myself. It’s a physical game. I think he’s going to deliver a hit to me.

“It seems like they were taking runs a little bit at times. If I’m going to be at the forefront of it, I might as well push back a little bit. I’ve got to protect myself.”

Eichel has never been suspended.

Meanwhile, Voracek will have to answer for this bit of interference he threw on New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk in their game on Saturday.

In a 5-1 game for the Flyers, Boychuk was pinching in to try and snag a loose puck heading Voracek’s way. Instead, Voracek saw Boychuk coming and dropped him with hit, forcing Boychuk from the game and resulting in a five-minute major for interference.

You can be the judge here:

Voracek was far from pleased with the call following the game.

“The explanation I got was if I hit him in the head, it would be a game [misconduct],” he told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I don’t know why I got five. I try to protect myself, to be honest, maybe the puck was a little further than I thought — I thought the puck was close to me.

“It’s a tough hit. You know, he’s getting off the ice, he’s pointing at me like it’s a WrestleMania or something. Pointing at me like it’s a WrestleMania. Come on, it’s a hockey game. … He’s the guy that was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year in the end of a game. He’s going to do that? Give me a break.”

Voracek, like Eichel, has no history.


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