Barry Trotz still needs 10 victories before he can start plotting a socially distanced parade strategy, so there is a long way to go for the Islanders and their coach.
But series by series, week by week, game by game, he continues mostly to push the right buttons — not only on the ice but off it.
Take the Islanders’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 of a second-round playoff series against the Flyers on Saturday night.
Trotz went back to Semyon Varlamov in goal after having yanked him in Game 2 when he gave up three early scores, and the Islanders stormed back in front of Thomas Greiss to force overtime.
That decision worked.
Varlamov looked more like the player who excelled in the first 10 postseason games, allowing only the one goal and surviving a frantic late flurry by the Flyers, who pulled their goalie during a power play and skated six-on-four.
His biggest save came midway through the third period, when he got his left pad on a shot by Joel Farabee alone in front, keeping the score at 3-1.
“The maturity of Varly as a pro shows in volumes, and it shows especially after losses,” Trotz said. “That’s the key for being in this league and having success.”
Trotz also dressed Derick Brassard for the first time in the series, having him replace the bigger, tougher, less skilled Ross Johnston as a wing on the third line.
That decision worked, too.
Brassard set up Leo Komarov for the go-ahead goal with 5.1 seconds left in the second period. He did an excellent job keeping the puck in the zone with his glove, took a shot that was saved, then beat Matt Niskanen behind the net to get the puck to Komarov.
“What ‘Brass’ usually does with us when he gets an opportunity to get back in the lineup, he usually makes the most of it,” Trotz said. “I was hoping for that response, and today he provided that.”
Brassard said, “The last couple of days were pretty tough for me; nobody wants to miss games or be a healthy scratch.” He admitted he “wasn’t happy,” but tried to maintain a team-first approach.
So the hockey part is going well for Trotz and the Islanders, who are 9-3 in the Toronto postseason “bubble” and have two victories in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
But off the ice, Trotz has been impressive, too, steering the Islanders through the strangest postseason in hockey history, and most recently speaking eloquently on more important matters than mere hockey games.
Trotz is widely known around the league as a mensch who can see the big picture. That never was more evident than over the course of news conferences Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
On Friday, after the playoffs were paused in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Trotz seemed to be tearing up as he discussed what comes next.
“You’ve got a voice; you’ve got some momentum for the brotherhood,” he said. “It is the next step to have some solutions.
“If you have to change some laws, get that done. If it’s getting schools, the next generation, to understand love and understanding, let’s get that done. That’s the next step for me.”
He also spoke of playing “almost like a parent role” in supporting his players and their causes, such as Trotz’s commitment to people with special needs such as his son, Nolan.
“Listening is a skill, and this is a good time for everybody to listen,” he said, “because there is stuff in this world that everybody pretends they understand, but we don’t understand.”
He was back behind the microphone before Game 3, with more long and thoughtful answers about coaching under these circumstances.
“Every generation has had their moments, from the world wars to depressions to all those things, and some of them still apply,” he said. “One of them is inequality.
“The next generation, our generation, are going to be tested for sure, and we have to make the most of it, make sure we’re helping our children get to a place where they’re in a better place than where we are right now.”