When you start the playoffs as hot as Jordan Eberle did, and then you have a nine-day break between your first- and second-round series, there’s no way to keep that kind of thing going, is there?
“I think, obviously, this time off is a luxury and it’s a curse,’’ Eberle said a few days ago, as the Islanders waited for their next opponent to emerge from the Capitals-Hurricanes series. “You have to find ways to stay sharp.’’
For Eberle, who had a goal in each game – plus two assists – in the first round series sweep against the Penguins, the initial challenge had been to try and find a way to keep his hot streak going into the next series. But with the Islanders having closed out the Penguins on April 16 – before finally returning to action Friday in Game 1 of the series against the Capitals-Hurricanes winner – the more realistic question now is whether Eberle will be able to re-ignite his first-round fire, as opposed to being able to keep it going.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he isn’t worried Eberle will have gone cold during the long break.
“No, no. He’s playing enthused’’ in practice, Trotz said. “I don’t think that goes away. I think when you’re feeling good, it sort of sticks with you. So I’m not too worried about that at all.’’
Trotz did the best he could to try and replicate game situations and keep his team physically and mentally sharp during their layoff. Battle drills, scrimmages, some detail work, and some well-timed days off (including one on Wednesday) filled the period between the first and second round. For Eberle and his linemate, the almost-as-hot Mathew Barzal (five assists in four games), the key to staying hot is to try and keep up their sharp play in the practices.
“You score in games, you want to score in practice,’’ Eberle said. “I know it’s your teammates, and obviously, your goaltenders. But even when you’re not scoring [in games], the biggest thing is to put the puck in in practice. It’ll carry over.’’
“We did a lot of game-like stuff ... and chemistry was still there, and we were scoring, and it felt real good,’’ Barzal said. “It felt right back like we were playing in the playoffs last week. So as long as we practice hard – those battle drills are good, they’re game-like. So you’ve just got to make sure you’re doing well in those.’’
But with everything Trotz has done to mix it up for the team, and with the time off useful in helping to get the team healthy, it’s enough now. And Eberle and his teammates are ready to play a game.
“Oh, for sure,’’ Eberle said. “I think all of us are anxious. It’s tough when you’re watching hockey every night. You watch all these great plays and, you know, you’re sitting back. But ultimately, we earned this rest, so you want to get your mind straight, you want to find your game in practice here, and get yourself as ready as possible.’’