As the Islanders embark on the second half of the NHL season, the next level to their game is one Barry Trotz has seen his team play in the past.
“The next level we’ve got to get to is we’ve got to get back to a little more of our consistency in our 200-foot game,” the coach said. “We’re not all the way there. It’s sort of like a juggler with four balls. Right now, we’re only juggling three. We’ve got to get that fourth ball in the equation and build our game a little bit more up and down the ice.”
Trotz said this before the Islanders earned a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche, who at the time had the most goals in the NHL, and beat the Devils, 4-3, in overtime. Those games last Monday and Tuesday were Nos. 41 and 42 of the 82-game regular season.
Still, regardless of when Trotz said it, the sentiment remains the same: The Islanders need to be more consistent in their playoff push than what they showed in an 11-9-1 stretch that followed their franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23.
And as much as their team success is predicated on defense, it’s the offense that is most glaringly inconsistent.
Many of the players the Islanders count on for consistent scoring were in the midst of lengthy droughts entering Saturday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Bruins at Barclays Center.
Jordan Eberle scored his first goal in 11 games against the Devils. Josh Bailey had gone 13 games without a goal, with only two assists in that span. Anthony Beauvillier was without a goal in 11 games and had only two assists. Derick Brassard had gone 10 games without a goal and had only three assists. All-Star Mathew Barzal had been stuck on a team-high 16 goals for seven games.
Yet for all the noted inconsistency, the Islanders sat in third place in the Metropolitan Division after Saturday night’s games — one point behind the Penguins and with a game in hand — and their 58 points tied them for fifth-most in the league.
And the team is confident that it is positioned for a strong second-half push.
“Yeah, I don’t see how we couldn’t be,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “I don’t think anyone’s content with it. You’ve got to keep climbing. You’ve got to keep getting points. So it’s a good [first] half and we’ve got to get back to what we were doing on that long run we had.”
With all that in mind, here’s a quick look back at the first half and a crystal-ball glance at the second half:
First-half MVP: Center Brock Nelson has been the Islanders’ most consistent skater with 15 goals and 16 assists. He’s also a solid two-way center and Trotz often pairs his line — whoever his linemates may be in the game — against the opponent’s top line. Other candidates: Goalie Semyon Varlamov, defenseman Ryan Pulock, center Mathew Barzal.
Second-half what to watch for: Can rookie defenseman Noah Dobson grab the spot left open by Adam Pelech’s season-ending Achilles tendon injury? If not, will Thomas Hickey ever be healthy enough to earn a recall from Bridgeport of the AHL? Or will president and general manager Lou Lamoriello be forced to acquire a defenseman?
Trade target: The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 24, and the assumption is that Lamoriello will look to acquire scoring help up front. The Senators’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau will be highly sought after. The Kings’ Tyler Toffoli would be a solid acquisition who could come at a cheaper cost.
Maturing as a coach
Trotz was an interested observer this past week as the Predators fired Peter Laviolette and hired John Hynes as the third coach in the franchise’s 21-season history. Trotz, of course, coached the expansion franchise for its first 14 seasons.
Trotz said the lessons in stability that Predators general manager David Poile preached still resonate with him.
“I felt one of the strengths with David all the time, especially the early years when we’d hit some rough patches and he would come in and say, ‘Hey, the answer is in this room. There’s not going to be any change here. We’ve got to work through it,’ ” Trotz said. “And when we did, we were a better team on the other end.
“The easiest thing is to panic when it’s not going really well,” Trotz added. “But we’re in the winning business and I understand that totally. I understand it more now, 20-something years into it, than I probably did in year one or two. In the first or second year when you’re starting out, you’re just trying to survive. You just want to stay in the league. You want to have a career. I probably have a different perspective now than I did when it was 1998.”
Picked from the pod
Josh Bailey, the only Islander to be on the team’s NHL roster for every season through the 2010s, was the guest on Episode 15 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast.
He discussed the players he looked up to as role models when he first made the Islanders and the differences between being a 20-year-old player and a 30-year-old. Bailey also talked about the song the fans sing for him at every home game and whether his teammates use that to rib him still. It’s DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby” song sung as “Hey Bailey.”
“I don’t know if it’s a chirp anymore,” Bailey said. “We get a kick out of it. The guys in here run with it a little bit. There have been times we’ve been out somewhere, they get the song going and try to embarrass me a little bit. It’s all in good fun. For me, it’s a great feeling when you get that many people chanting your name. It puts a little more pressure on me to get a couple of more goals at home, obviously. But I look forward to it.”
The Predators’ Pekka Rinne on Thursday became the 12th goalie in NHL history to score a regular-season goal. Four of those goalies spent time with the Islanders, though only Billy Smith scored his goal while playing for the team:
Billy Smith — Nov. 28, 1979
Ron Hextall — Dec. 8, 1987 (with Flyers)
Chris Osgood — March 6, 1996 (with Red Wings)
Evgeni Nabokov — March 10, 2002 (with Sharks)
Also, one of those goalie-scored goals came against the Islanders:
Jose Theodore — Jan. 2, 2001 (with Canadiens)