With back-to-back embarrassing losses to the Boston Bruins and then the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders no longer know who they are. That’s a major problem.
For much of the season, we knew exactly who the New York Islanders were. They had an identity that was carefully crafted from the second Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz were hired. The Islanders were, as a collective, hard to play against.
That identity was the Islanders singular defining characteristic. That team identity helped them defy the pre-season (and in-season) prognostications about their potential. Their identity allowed them to push to the very top of the Metropolitan Division and made everyone look silly in the process.
But now, just weeks away from the postseason, so at the absolute worst possible time, the New York Islanders have lost that identity.
It seemed to happen out of nowhere. The New York Islanders just stopped playing that “New York Islanders” brand of hockey. A brand that focused on team defense, shot suppression by keeping pucks to the perimeter and simply outworking their opposition. And for most of the regular season that was an incredibly successful strategy for the Islanders.
Not only did they surge to the top of the Metropolitan Division, but they were keeping pucks out of their nets. Something they just couldn’t do last season. Before the trade deadline, the Islanders were averaging 2.39 goals against per game. Since February 25th, the Islanders have allowed 36 goals in 13 games, an average of 2.77 goals against per game.
They look absolutely lost in their own zone, and, more importantly, they aren't working as a single cohesive unit.
That was obvious when Scott Mayfield got run over twice by Andrew Shaw in a single game, and on both occasions, not a single Islanders player stepped in to teach Shaw on what happens when you take a run at their teammate.
Heck, go back two weeks and the same is obvious when Ottawa Senators Brady Tkachuk ran over goaltender Robin Lehner. Just like with Mayfield, not a single Islanders player was willing to teach Tkachuk what happens when you run over an Isles goalie.
The lack of action lead Lehner to state that he was going to stand up for himself rather than rely on teammates.
"[...]It’s still part of the game. Maybe I need to brace myself more for next time. Next time someone comes in, I’ll protect myself and we’ll see if they do it again.”
I know that responding to your teammate getting leveled doesn’t equal poor defensive play. But it certainly calls into question the cohesiveness of the group and their ability to play as a team.
The Islanders identity was to be hard to play against. There's nothing softer about a team when they can't stick up for a teammate. It also reveals how the group-think previously responsible for the team's success has given way to individuality.
Something Barry Trotz echoed in his post-game comments following the loss to the Montreal Canadiens when he said that some players are on a different program right now.
The Islanders need to find their identity again, because there’s nothing worse for a team going into the playoffs than stumbling over the line to get there.