The local football teams are disastrously down, the Knicks are still the Knicks, the Mets just hired another manager, and the Rangers and Devils are experiencing their expected rebuilding growing pains.
It certainly sounds weird for longtime observers of the Islanders to view them as one of the more stable sports franchises presently in New York, but that fully appears to be the case in their second year under GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz.
Aaron Boone obviously has led the Yankees to successive 100-plus win seasons and playoff appearances in his first two years in the Bronx, but you also certainly could make the case that Trotz presently is the top coach in the local area.
After winning a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018, he led the Islanders to only their second playoff series win since 1993 last spring. He also has them off to a rousing 9-3-0 start — including an eight-game winning streak, their longest in nearly 30 years — following Friday’s 5-2 clampdown victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Coliseum.
“I think we could hit the ground running a little bit more in camp this year. You have a little bit less to learn, in a sense, and you understand how things work and everything else. I think that’s what we did this year as much as possible,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We’ve put a little bit of a decent start together, but it’s a long year and we’ve got to continue to challenge ourselves to be better.
“Last year I think there was a lot of change, obviously, around here, and we had a lot to prove, and even this year, coming in, not a lot of changes within our team, and we still have to go out there and do something about it. But yeah, you look around town, there’s still a lot of great teams, but it’s early in the year, for sure. We’re just trying to do what we can here.”
Following the free-agent defection of then-captain John Tavares to Toronto, the Isles managed 103 points last season and swept Pittsburgh in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in April before falling in four games in the next round to Carolina.
They opened this season by dropping three of their first four games, but their eight consecutive wins thereafter represent their longest streak since taking nine straight from Dec. 1989 through Jan. 1990.
Trotz, the 2019 Jack Adams Award winner as NHL Coach of the Year, spent the five days since the Isles’ previous win Sunday against Philadelphia preaching about focus and against complacency. But second-period goals by Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock, three more by Josh Bailey, Lee and Derick Brassard (empty-net) in the final 7:19 of the third, and 33 saves from a stellar Thomas Greiss proved he needn’t have been concerned in that regard.
“You can get full of yourself, yep, absolutely,” Trotz said. “I think it shows in practice, we practice really well. That’s always the first indicator, if a team is getting full of themselves, they don’t practice very well. They start cheating, they start not executing. I wouldn’t say that with this group. They haven’t done that.
“We rarely look up and don’t start counting things off. That’s the mentality that we have. There’s not a lot of patting each other on the back.”
Lee also had opportunities to leave as a free agent over the summer, but he elected to stay, inking a seven-year deal worth $49 million in July to continue building the identity the Isles began to implement last year under Trotz.
“It’s hard work. It’s playing tough. I think it’s detail-oriented, and I think it’s playing with pride for your team and your teammates and going out there every night and giving it everything you have,” Lee said. “I think that’s been the identity of our group for a while now, and that identity is a lot to do with going out there and proving it, too, every night. You can’t just have it one game and not the other. It’s one of those things you’re always continuing to be better.”