The New York Islanders are playing a spirited, physical brand of hockey these days, riding the tone they’ve set to a 2-0 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into Sunday’s pivotal Game 3 in Western Pennsylvania.
Physicality has been a consistent part of playing “Islanders Hockey” since this new regime took over. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s one of the biggest reasons this team has progressed so quickly. Breaking down an opponent via bone-jarring hits is a tried-and-true way to take the upper hand.
Over the Isles’ final three games of the season — big games in their own right, despite New York having already clinched a postseason berth — Barry Trotz’ group laid a total of 80 hits on the Maple Leafs (25 on April 1; 2-1 loss), Panthers (33 on April 4; 2-1 win), and Capitals (22 in a 3-0 win on the final day of the season).
In contrast, the Islanders have assaulted the Pens with a total of 83 hits over the first two games of the series, with Pittsburgh capably matching the Isles’ intensity (79 hits). The raucous crowd at the Nassau Coliseum surely kept the collective fire lit underneath Barry’s Boys. Home-ice advantage is an understatement in Uniondale.
But now, moving to Pittsburgh leaves the Islanders shouldering the responsibility of igniting their own flames and keeping them lit through what should be more of the same playoff-level hockey on Sunday and Tuesday.
Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas are the straws that stir this kick-butt-and-take-names cocktail, but their intensity — every time, it feels like — gets this team going. From the guys on the ice with them to the last player on the bench, these three consistently give the Isles a jolt akin to a quad-shot of espresso.
That energy needs to be turned on early on Sunday and needs to remain a part of the Isles game for as long as they survive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Robin Lehner has been elite in net, the Isles defense allowed 11 fewer shots in Game 2 than in Game 1 (gotta credit Trotz’ adjustments, right?), and guys like Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey — to name a few — have stepped up their games considerably, as well.
This team has thrived on taking cues from each other. Whether it’s a big hit, a snazzy play, or an unbelievable goal, the Isles feed off their own positive energy. Gotta keep this thing, going, boys. Let’s go, Islanders.