GLENDALE, Ariz.— Barry Trotz believes his Islanders are more than just efficient when the top-six forwards are producing consistently.
“When the production is there from the top six, I think we’re a more dangerous team because we’ve been defending pretty well and our special teams are giving us a goal here or there now,” the coach said.
And how top-line right wing Jordan Eberle produces goes a long way toward determining how dangerous the Islanders can be.
The Islanders continued a four-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena after Eberle snapped a 10-game goal drought in Monday night’s trek-opening 4-1 win at Colorado. Eberle also added a power-play assist as the Islanders went 2-for-4 with the man advantage, only the second time this season they’ve connected for more than one power-play goal in a game.
“You always worry about producing, that’s what you’re paid to do,” said Eberle, who entered Tuesday night’s game with seven goals and eight assists after compiling 25 goals and 34 assists last season, his first with the Islanders.
“There’s been extra incentive on being on the right side of the puck and I think it’s translated into wins,” Eberle added of the Islanders’ improved defense under Trotz. “That’s going to bring offense down. At the same time, you need to put the puck in the net. I hold myself accountable for that for sure.”
Eberle can be a creative whiz with the puck, such as when he knocked the puck off the net to himself and nearly scored on a wraparound against the Avalanche.
But he’s also bought into Trotz’s demands when it comes to the team’s defensive play. Last season, the Islanders allowed a league-worst 293 goals, the most any NHL team has allowed since 2007.
Still, the Islanders had been struggling to score before Saturday night’s 4-3 shootout win over the Red Wings at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The team tallied just 14 goals in a 2-4-2 stretch from Nov. 26 through last Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Vegas at Barclays Center. The Islanders did not score a five-on-four power play goal during that stretch.
“It’s difficult if you know you’re not getting anything on special teams or from the top six,” Trotz said. “If you get one goal, you say that one goal is all you’re going to get so we’ve got to win this game, 1-0. That can put a lot of pressure on a lot of players. But we’re getting comfortable playing the way we do and in close games.
“We’re managing the game a little bit better,” Trotz added. “We’re not just playing the same way no matter what the score is. You don’t want to be a high-event team when you’ve got the lead. You want to make sure the events are happening in a predictable order for you.”
What Eberle cannot predict right now is how his contract situation will be resolved. He is in the last season of a six-year, $36-million deal he signed with the Oilers.
The Islanders can re-sign Eberle starting Jan. 1. The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 25.
“You don’t focus on that,” Eberle said. “You think about it. It’s your future. But when I’m playing hockey, I don’t think about it.”