All players will be crucial to the Islanders’ effort if the NHL is able to resume play this summer.
The goalies just a little bit more so, Barry Trotz believes.
“Goaltending can steal you a series,” the Islanders coach said during an interview with Alan Hahn and Bart Scott on ESPN-98.7 FM on Thursday. “Especially early in the season, they need more game time to get it right. And some goalies need less. If you get goaltending above the curve, you have an immense advantage.”
Two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky (23-19-6, 3.23 goals-against average, .900 save percentage) is the Panthers’ No. 1 goalie. Trotz will choose between Semyon Varlamov (19-14-6, 2.62 GAA, .914 save percentage) and Thomas Greiss (16-9-4, 2.74 GAA, .913 save percentage).
But there’s still a long way to go between now and any potential puck drop after the season was paused on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are still details to be settled in the return-to-play model, including which two hub cities will host 12 teams from each conference.
Health concerns may still scuttle any attempt to resume play. But the NHL is hoping to open its team facilities to small-group workouts by early June and conduct formal training camps in July, though possibly not until the middle of the month. It’s likely no game will be played before August.
“I was very confident we were going to play all along,” said Trotz, whose Islanders went into the forced hiatus 35-23-10 and on an 0-3-4 skid. “I’ve kept a pretty rigorous schedule. Every day, I do hockey-related stuff all morning. I’m doing calls with my own coaching staff. We looked at ourselves, a self-evaluation from the coaching staff to the team knowing we’d get back playing, so what can we do to get an edge?”
Trotz said the Islanders will benefit from top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech, out since Jan. 2 with an Achilles tendon injury, as well as fourth-line center Casey Cizikas (leg laceration) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (eye laceration) all being available. He added in-season trade acquisitions Jean-Gabriel Pageau and defenseman Andy Greene will benefit from having a training camp with their new teammates.
But new injuries will be a concern with few players skating much, if at all, during the break.
“The most important part in all this is the trainers and the players,” Trotz said. “They’re going to have to let me know where they are so we put them in the right situation so they don’t have setbacks. Some guys are going to be behind.”
Which brings it back to how well the goalies can perform.
“I think special teams in this short playoff are huge,” Trotz said. “We’ve got two capable goalies. Our defense is at least eight deep. We’ve got five, veteran lines. We’re not known as the most explosive offensive team but we’re going to have to get to that three-goal line every night. Lock it down and keep the other team below that.”
The Islanders will also have to adjust to playing at a neutral site without fans in the building instead of the raucous NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
“It’s going to be strange, the fans do have an effect on that,” Trotz said. “I don’t even know if I’ll be right behind the bench. I might be three rows back.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders announced entry-level deals with three of their forward prospects, Felix Bibeau, a sixth-round pick in 2019, Cole Coskey, a seventh-round pick in 2019 and Blade Jenkins, a fifth-round pick in 2018.