Barry Trotz remained confident the Islanders would ultimately make the playoffs, even through an 0-3-4 skid that preceded the NHL putting the season on pause on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the coach, with plenty of time now to reassess, knows there are ways he could have helped his team more.
“Twenty-twenty hindsight is always a great thing, but I would do a few things different,” Trotz told Newsday. “Maybe practiced, at different times, more, just because the group needed it.
“Sometimes, I felt like we overcoached,” Trotz added. “That’s because we’re so passionate about getting better. When I say you overcoach, you get away from what you do really well.”
The Islanders are 35-23-10 and sit one point behind both the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, who hold the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card spots. However, the Islanders have played two fewer games than the Blue Jackets.
“I wasn’t worried we weren’t going to make the playoffs because we were trending, mentally, in the right way,” Trotz said. “Our mental mindset was going in the right direction.”
The Islanders had built a cushion in the standings with a franchise-record 15-0-2 run from Oct-12-Nov. 23 but had played mostly inconsistent hockey since Thanksgiving.
And much of why Trotz questions how he coached comes from trying to compensate for the absence of the identity-setting fourth line of Casey Cizikas between Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, which was not available as a trio for long stretches during the season.
The Islanders went into the season’s pause 2-7-4 after Cizikas suffered a left leg laceration via a skate blade on Feb. 11. Clutterbuck missed 30 games after suffering a deep cut to his left arm via a skate blade on Dec. 19. Martin missed nine games with a leg injury from Oct. 27-Nov. 19.
In all, Trotz only had all three in the lineup for 19 of the 68 games. Trotz said he erred trying to get the Islanders to compensate by playing a more offensive style rather than trying to play tighter defensively.
“There’s times when I said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to play this way a little differently because we didn’t have that line,’ ” Trotz said. “Maybe we should have just tightened it up and even did more of what we did well, versus trying to change it. As you’re trying to change it a little bit, you’re not as tight in some areas.
“We tried to push the offense a little more when we should have just locked down defensively a little more and not worried about it,” Trotz added. “We score two goals and they get none, we win.”
The Islanders lost three straight one-goal games before the NHL paused the season, including a 5-4 shootout loss at Vancouver on March 10 that was supposed to be the start of a four-game road trip.
The Islanders rallied from one-goal deficits three times to force overtime that night, They also erased two one-goal deficits in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Hurricanes at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on March 7.
It was a resolve Trotz said he didn’t always see out of the Islanders this season.
“I thought we were trending in the right direction, for sure,” Trotz said. “I know we weren’t getting the results. But I could tell in our room, our resiliency, our resolve, our focus was all going in the right direction. Sometimes, when things aren’t coming easy, you’ve got to fight through that. We were willing to fight though that. The fight wasn’t scaring us.
“I think, when we were playing poorly, we avoided the battle a little bit and I think we were really accepting the challenge of the battle when we left.”