A long time ago but practically right next door, Brooklyn set the standard for dealing with slumps. At St. Francis Church, a 10-minute walk from where Barclays Center is now, Father Herbert Redmond said one Sunday in May, 1953: “It’s too hot for a sermon today. Go home, keep the commandments and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.”
Hodges, the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman, was batting around .190 at the time, continuing a drought that had begun in the previous World Series. Whether through coincidence or providence, he went on a tear in late May finished the season at .302.
The church still is there, but there was no request for help from any of the Islanders forwards Wednesday night before their 3-2 loss to the Golden Knights. Nor was any of the players inclined to lean on a superstition such as a rabbit’s foot or a different lunch menu or a new stick. They plan to rely on hard work, patience and more hard work.
“When you have a game like this and they’re not going in, you’ve just got to keep at it. That’s all you’ve got to do,” Anders Lee said after the Islanders outshot the defending Western Conference champion 25-17 but failed to break out of a funk that has limited them to only 14 goals in the past eight games.
So, the first question is whether this is really is a slump, or if this stretch signifies who they really are. Is this a sign that the Islanders do not have enough firepower? That’s a natural concern in the first season of the post-John Tavares era. The team lost a 37-goal, 47-assist man and added almost no offensive juice during the offseason. Scoring remains an open issue.
“I thought we generated enough chances to win, based on [playing] a pretty good team that’s pretty good defensively,” Barry Trotz said. “We’ve had some opportunities to shoot the puck but we’ve passed those up.”
In his first season as the Islanders coach, Trotz has made them competitive — they were in a playoff spot as of Tuesday — with an emphasis on defense. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. At least not, according to the players. “I don’t think we’re taking a hit offensively because of what we’re doing on the back end,” Lee said of a structure designed to get the puck out of the defensive end quickly and send it up ice. The Islanders simply have not been able to convert once they do get it into the offensive zone.
“The biggest thing, for me, when you’re not finding the back of the net is don’t get too fine,” Trotz said. “Just keep going to the right areas, keep going to the net, keep having net presence, keep shooting the puck, keep your feet moving. Don’t overthink it. It comes.”
It comes more easily if players shoot. The coach is encouraging Mat Barzal to do that more, even though he is a pass-first kind of talent. Tavares’ successor as the marquee center did good work in setting up Anthony Beauvillier’s goal in the first period and made a sparkling drop pass for Adam Pelech’s goal in the second.
Of course, Barzal would love to score more. But there is no way he will resort to magic potions or anything else at odds with the lifetime habits that made him the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s best rookie last season.
“I try not to. I try to stick with what I was doing before,” Barzal said, having extended his goal-less streak to nine games. “I think if things aren’t going great, you’ve got to work out of it. You’ve got to do some extra work, whether it’s in the gym or an extra skate. That’s the way you get out of a slump.”