Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz have to stop meeting like this.
When the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins were paired against each other for their first round Stanley Cup playoff series, it marked the fourth consecutive year that the two coaches will have faced off in the postseason. Sullivan’s Penguins beat Trotz’s Washington Capitals in 2016 and 2017, before Trotz’s Caps finally turned things around last spring.
Oh, and for good measure, the winner of each of those series won the Stanley Cup.
Of course, Trotz left the Capitals last summer to take the Islanders job, but even though he doesn’t have an Alexander Ovechkin on his roster with the Isles, the two coaches know each other well enough to know what they are up against in this series.
“I think all of us, as coaches, have certain convictions on how we envision our teams play, and certain strategies on what we think allow us to have success,’’ Sullivan said Wednesday at the morning skate before Game 1. “I know [Trotz] has strong convictions, as well, in how he likes his teams to play. I have so much respect for Barry. He’s a real good coach, and has been, for a long time, in this league. He’s done a great job with this Islanders team; we’ve got a great challenge ahead of us.’’
“We’re a little different, obviously, than the Washington group, but systematically, we’re probably very similar,’’ Trotz said of his current Islanders team. “Both teams have stayed very true to their identities, so there is some familiar type situation [between the coaches], but they’ve had great pedigree in the past, they have it now, and it’s going to be exciting to go against some top players, the [Sidney) Crosbys and [Evgeni] Malkins.’’
Sullivan didn’t want to make too much of the chess match that will be going on between the coaches in the series. The games will be decided by the player, he said, though he said the coaches certainly will play a part.
“I think our responsibility, as coaches, is to make sure that we provide the necessary adjustments for all the different aspects of our overall team game to try and give our guys an opportunity to have success out there,’’ he said. “But I do think, at the end of the day, that it just boils down to effort and execution.’’
According to Trotz, he and Sullivan haven’t grown particularly close after all this time matching wits, but they have developed a great respect for one another.
“The years they beat us, we wished them the best,’’ Trotz said. If you’re going to get beat, you want to get beat by the champs. He was gracious when we finally beat them last year. Obviously, when you lose, you’re going to be disappointed, but he was very gracious. He’s done a great job with that group over the years.’’