Islanders coach Barry Trotz circled Monday night’s game when the Islanders schedule came out this summer.
He was getting his Stanley Cup ring from the Washington Capitals, and he was facing his old team for the first time since he was let go as their head coach after leading them to a Stanley Cup championship in June. He wanted to win, and the Islanders wanted to win this game for him.
What makes Trotz refreshing is he does not give the usual pap of cliches such as it’s about getting two points when he speaks to the media, and he showed it again by saying it was not just another game. He wasn’t going to insult anyone’s intelligence on this night. There was no point of fooling anyone of what this game meant to him.
Playing with emotion can be a positive or negative. In the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions at Barclays Center, it turned out to be the latter. The Islanders may have been overamped to play in trying to please their new boss, and it clearly showed when they were cute with the puck by trying to make a perfect play rather than just shoot it. They may have been overwhelmed going up against the Capitals, which Trotz suggested by saying they showed too much respect to them.
There is also something to be said about the Capitals being the more seasoned and savvy team than the Islanders on this night. The Islanders’ opponent did not win the Stanley Cup and be an elite team all these years for nothing. The Islanders weren’t playing the Devils or Rangers, and they received a brutal reminder in this contest.
The Capitals defense stifled the Islanders from peppering shots and creating scoring opportunities all night long. How good was that defense? The Islanders went 0-for-4 with just six shots on their power play. It was the type of play that made them a championship team for the first time ever last season.
When the Islanders figured out how to get through the Capitals suffocating defense in the third period, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby was right there to make the saves.
Despite how well the Capitals played, the Islanders have been resilient enough in this young season that they thought they could find a way to tie the game and take it to overtime.
So much for that when Tom Wilson’s power-play goal at 14:21 of the third period gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead just as the Islanders killed off a five-on-three power play.
It wasn’t going to be the night Trotz envisioned after receiving his ring and talking to his old team in their locker room prior to the game and when Islanders center Valtteri Filppula scored the first goal of the game in the first period.
The Islanders expressed their disappointment for not winning it for their head coach. They also wanted to show how far they have come with this season by beating the Capitals. This was certainly bigger than just getting two points.
While Trotz was disappointed about the outcome, he wasn’t low or angry about it. He was realistic enough to know his new team is not as good enough as his old team. He had to keep it in perspective, which is what a mature accomplished head coach do in a time like this.
He was happy to get this game over with and get back at the task at hand of coaching his own team. He has enough problems of his own to worry about what the Capitals are doing.
Trotz is going to have more good days than bad days as the Islanders head coach. So far, this has been better than he expected with the Islanders overachieving at 12-9-2.
The Islanders showed they were competent enough to give the Capitals a game for most of the night on the great play of Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss. This is all Trotz can ask for a team that he is building from the ground up. Playing a team like the Capitals tough is one thing, but beating a team like that and playing well for 60 minutes against them is another thing.
Here’s a sign the Islanders are growing up: They did not celebrate a moral victory.
That’s progress, and it was refreshing to hear anger and disappointment they did not get it done for themselves. That’s something Trotz should be happy about.
Maybe this is something the Islanders head coach can celebrate despite not getting the outcome he hoped.