There was no practice for the Islanders on Wednesday — a Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated day off — but there was plenty of work for Barry Trotz as he sifted through the rubble of Tuesday night’s lazy 5-2 loss to the Oilers.
The Islanders coach acknowledged he has some lineup decisions to make before Friday night’s playoff-rematch game at Carolina after his team went an uninspiring 1-2-0 on its season-opening homestand.
“Right now, I’m considering a lot of changes with guys that aren’t working hard,” Trotz said minutes after Tuesday’s loss. “The first three games, our starts have not been good. You can’t come out slow and rely on your goaltending to keep you in it until you get going. We’ve got to be better.”
The Islanders have only been outscored 3-2 in the first periods but have consistently lost puck battles, struggled to complete passes and enter the offensive zone. Bad penalties have also been an issue, particularly by usually reliable second-line center Brock Nelson, who has taken five minors so far.
That’s surely not what Troz was hoping to see or feel about his team after three games, not after it finished second in the Metropolitan Division last season with 103 points before being swept in the second round by the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes outscored the Islanders, 13-5, in their sweep and are leading the Metropolitan Division with a 4-0-0 mark.
One lopsided playoff series loss aside, the Islanders’ fueled their success last season with a relentless work ethic.
“I don’t think that was a very good representation of who we really are,” captain Anders Lee said of Tuesday’s loss. “We weren’t heavy at all.”
So where does Trotz turn? Much will become evident at Thursday’s practice in East Meadow.
He shook up his lines starting in the second period on Tuesday, benching Nelson for a stretch, double-shifting Mathew Barzal at times and finally winding up with Barzal in between Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle, Nelson centering Josh Bailey and Leo Komarov and Derick Brassard on a line with Lee and Jordan Eberle in the third period.
Tom Kuhnhackl, praised by Trotz throughout training camp for his “Swiss Army knife” versatility and work ethic, is a likely candidate to enter the lineup after being a healthy scratch the first three games. Dal Colle’s spot is in danger as he’s gone without a point in three games and looked ineffectual. Burly Ross Johnston has also been a healthy scratch for three games and Trotz might look to his grit for the lineup.
Trotz must also decide whether to stick with his usual top line of Barzal between Lee and Eberle. The trio has combined for two points with Barzal notching a secondary assist on Lee’s goal in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Jets.
“I thought they weren’t supporting the puck,” Trotz said. “Barzy will do some of his things on the outside but you’ve got to have someone at the net so if you throw it there you can create some chaos. We had guys lining up for one-timers in the corner but nobody at the net.”