What’s striking about the Islanders is that they play as one collective unit, one mind with one goal. There’s a unified belief that radiates from the players that they can compete for every puck, on every shift and in every game.
That sort of mentality doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an attitude that’s fostered by team camaraderie, which is something head coach Barry Trotz made a point to instill from the moment he arrived on Long Island three years ago.
“It’s identifying the people that will buy in and it starts with your leaders,” Trotz said Sunday before the Islanders traveled to Boston for Game 5. “Probably one of the most important decisions we had to make is when John Tavares left to go to Toronto. Who was going to be the next captain? You had to get that right. I think we did, we did with Anders Lee and guys like Josh Bailey.
“Everything from the voice in the room, to respect in the room, to how they play, it didn’t matter the role. We have some leaders, a guy like, for example, Matt Martin. He doesn’t need an ‘A,’ but he’s one of our leaders in our room. It was identifying who’s going to carry the message forward.
“You had to pick the right leaders so that they can get everybody to follow. To me, good leaders are an extension of the coaching staff and I think we’ve got some good leaders, that’s where it starts.”
While captain Anders Lee hasn’t been able to compete in the playoffs after suffering a season-ending knee injury in March, the other aforementioned players have certainly played a major role in the team getting to this point — tied 2-2 in their second-round playoff series.
On the score sheet, Bailey has four goals and three assists in 10 playoff games — including the pivotal game-winner in double overtime in Game 5 of the first-round series against the Penguins. Martin, on the other hand, has been at the forefront of wearing down opponents and bringing a hard-to-ignore physical element to every game. He has 13 penalty minutes in 10 games.
According to Trotz, amplifying the right voices in the locker room will not only serve the team well now, but also in the future. Mathew Barzal, who has scored two game-changing goals in the last two contests, will be expected to carry the leadership torch at some point.
“I wouldn’t totally put him in the, what I would call the veteran leadership group yet, but he’s learning slowly,” Trotz said of the 24-year-old Barzal. “At some point, he will be that guy.”
When you have a team that has completely bought in, it can produce outrageous stretches of play like during the final minutes of the third period in Saturday’s 4-1 victory. The Bruins weren’t able to register a single shot on goal in the final 6:18 of the game, as the Islanders maintained pressure and made it extremely difficult for Boston goalie Tuukka Rask to get to the bench to give his team an extra skater.
“They’ve done it to us, we’ve done it to them,” Trotz said. “What I liked about the last part of the third period, we were on our toes. Sometimes, you get a little bit on your heels and you back off out of respect or you want to be cautious. We just trusted our game.”