The New York Islanders are one of the early surprise teams in the NHL so far. There are a few reasons for this but no one is talking about the Isles secret weapon.
The New York Islanders look like a completely different team compared to last season. Style of play, special teams, goaltending play is night and day compared to last year. But there is a hidden reason as well.
A Barry Trotz team is going to have a certain DNA. They are going to play defense, have strong special teams, and do the little things to win hockey games.
So far that’s what the Islanders have been doing and why they have achieved early success. The Isles pretty much have the same roster as last season but yet there are notable differences on the ice.
Defensively it’s been a whole new ballgame for the blue and orange. Heading into Sunday’s action the Isles were third in the league allowing 2.31 goals per game. Considering last season the Isles were the worst team in the league in goals allowed (worst numbers the NHL has seen in some time).
In addition, the Isles were beyond putrid on the penalty kill last year (again worst in the league) and so far this season they have been respectful (13th overall).
The Trots effect has been pronounced but doesn’t take into account the Isles secret weapon.
The Isles have quietly had a secret weapon this season. It’s a psychological secret weapon and that is the chip on their shoulders.
When John Tavares left the Isles for Toronto this past July 1st, everyone in the hockey world buried the Islanders. Every insider said the Isles upcoming season will all be about the lottery ping-pong balls come late April.
Clearly, the Islander players got their backs up. Johnny Boychuk said so when he told the Athletic’s Arthur Staple (subscription required) in July
"“That’s just a slap in the face when I see it. Our team is really good. I think we’re going to show them we are a good team.”"
This is an intangible that should be taken into account and in fact, the Vegas Golden Knights are proof positive of the effect the chip on one’s shoulder can have for a team.
Remember while most people in the hockey world liked the majority of the Golden Knights roster, the fact remained those players were exposed to Vegas in last year’s expansion draft. The message was sent and that was we value all the players we protected a lot more than you. Obviously, Vegas had a huge inaugural season.
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Yes, Trotz’s coaching is most of the reasons why the Isles are achieving success in the early going. But don’t dismiss the huge chip almost every Islanders has on his shoulder.