Barry Trotz dropped puck after puck at center ice after the formal portion of the Islanders’ practice on Saturday in East Meadow. It’s been like this all week as the coach works with his centers, as well as several other forwards, to improve the team’s faceoff percentage.
It’s just one game into the season, but the Islanders’ 2-1 loss to the Capitals on Friday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum continued the team’s deficiencies in the faceoff circle from last season.
“It’s all over the ice,” Trotz said. “You want to start with the puck as much as possible.”
The Islanders will continue their three-game homestand against the Jets on Sunday night at the Coliseum. Winnipeg rallied from a four-goal deficit to spoil the Devils’ home opener on Friday night with a 5-4 shootout win.
On paper, the Islanders weren’t awful on faceoffs, winning 24 of 50 (48.0 percent) against the Capitals. During a first-period stretch, though, they lost six straight faceoffs in the defensive zone.
Overall, the Islanders were 4-for-15 on faceoffs in the offensive zone and 11-for-21 in the defensive zone.
“We couldn’t get any [offensive-zone] time and you’re starting without the puck, you’re trying to block shots,” Trotz said. “It’s a hard way to live.”
In their first season under Trotz, the Islanders reduced their goals against from an NHL-worst 293 in 2017-18 to an NHL-best 191. That defensive structure that served them so well last season was mostly evident on Friday night.
“Last year, we focused on ‘we’ve got to correct something,’ ” Trotz said. “Our defensive play, our consistency, our structure and all of that. So we fixed that. But some outlying areas — special teams, faceoffs — those are areas we have to get better at individually so we can be better collectively.
“Faceoffs, they help you keep the goals against down,” he added. “If you can’t win faceoffs, a player will lose ice time. If you can win faceoffs, you’re going to get extra faceoffs.”
The Islanders ranked 29th in the NHL last season with a 47.4 faceoff win percentage. They were 23rd with a 48.5 offensive-zone faceoff win percentage and 28th with a 47.1 defensive-zone faceoff win percentage.
“There’s a big emphasis on that,” said Brock Nelson, who was 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) against the Capitals and, along with Casey Cizikas, are the centers Trotz relies on most for defensive-zone faceoffs. “[Trotz] is breaking everything down and going over everything. We’ve got Marty Reasoner helping out, too. That’s just the way Barry is. He’s so detailed in every area of the game that he’s trying to help us get better and try to help us win games.”
Nelson, Cizikas and Derick Brassard are all lefthanders, leaving Mathew Barzal as the lone righthanded-shooting Islanders center.
The NHL altered its rules for this season after an icing or starting a power play to allow the team in the offensive zone to choose which side of the ice the faceoff will be.
“They’re trying to improve the offense to try and get more scoring chances,” said Brassard, who was 4-for-10 (40.0 percent) in his Islanders debut. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. But it’s been like that for 100 years, why change it now? If a guy ices the puck on the left side, the faceoff should be on that same side.”
As a result, Brassard said he believes coaches eventually will start using two centers, a lefty and a righty, together more on lines.
Notes & quotes: Andrew Ladd, who suffered injuries to each knee last season and was limited to 26 games, rejoined the Islanders for Saturday’s practice — albeit in an orange, non-contact jersey. He’s not expected back until late November. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello has said Ladd is not expected to be ready until late November. “He will practice with us in a non-contact jersey for a while so he’ll be a little bit limited,” Trotz said. “But just being around the guys will be mentally good for him.” Based on Saturday’s practice, it appears Trotz will not alter his defense pairs, meaning Noah Dobson, the 12th overall pick in 2018, likely again will be a healthy scratch.