Barry Trotz has coached the third-most games in NHL history. He’s got a pretty good idea why the New York Islanders followed up clinching a playoff berth by suffering back-to-back losses to the worst team in the NHL.
The Islanders will look to get back on track while also resting up for the postseason Thursday night, when they are scheduled to host the New Jersey Devils in the opener of a two-game series in Uniondale, N.Y.
Both teams were off Wednesday following eventful games Tuesday, when the Islanders squandered a two-goal lead for the second time in as many nights and fell to the host Buffalo Sabres, 4-3, in a shootout while the Devils overcame a pair of one-goal deficits to edge the visiting Boston Bruins, 4-3, in overtime.
The win by the Devils provided the only bit of good news for New York (31-16-6, 68 points) in its two-game trip to Buffalo, which began with a 4-2 loss Monday. Thanks to New Jersey’s comeback, the Islanders remained a point behind the third-place Bruins (31-14-7, 69 points) in the East Division. They are also three points behind the second-place Washington Capitals (33-14-5, 71 points) and five behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (35-16-3, 73 points).
Jockeying for position in the back half of the playoff bracket isn’t what New York had in mind after leading the division for much of the season.
But after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in the bubble last summer and participating in the sprint of the 2021 regular season, Trotz understands if the Islanders — who locked up a playoff berth with a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers last Saturday — have dialed it down a bit the last two games and is focused on ensuring the sharpness returns for the playoffs.
Leading scorer Mathew Barzal was scratched along with Matt Martin and Leo Komarov on Tuesday — Barzal’s scratch ended his consecutive games played streak at 284 — and Trotz said he’d likely rest more players during the final three games of the regular season.
“I think right now we’re not as mentally sharp because I think we’ve done a lot of grinding and it’s probably a little bit of natural rollback of, hey, we got in and you can breathe a little bit,” Trotz said. “While we’re breathing, we’re not as sharp as we should be. It’s an opportunity right now to get everybody some rest as best we can but keep all the pieces in order, if you will, so that we can still play the game and still be fairly sharp for when the (playoffs) come.”
The series against the Islanders provides the Devils (18-28-7, 43 points) one more chance to impact the East playoff race while trying to generate some momentum heading into next season.
The Devils have won four of five games following a 10-game losing streak. With victories in its final three games, New Jersey can secure its first four-game winning streak since the first four games of the 2018-19 season.
“We’ve got a good young team,” said 19-year-old Devils center Jack Hughes. “Now we’ve got to take the next step, these next few games. Heading into next year, it’s got to be no more ‘Young and developing.’
“We’ve got to start to win and learn how to win.”
–Field Level Media