In Part 1 of this series, we examined a small part of what helped Lou Lamoriello make the jump from consistent playoff contender (The Devils made it to the playoffs seven times in his first eight years as GM).
“That’s the way he flies, ice-cold, no mistakes. Just wears you down, you get bored, frustrated, do something stupid and he’s got you.” once said Nick “Goose” Bradshaw.
If it wasn’t clear from what has happened to the Islanders style of play since Lamoriello took over, then you might want to check your eyes.
But defense very clearly comes first.
As a thought experiment, it makes sense – it’s much easier to focus on defense and limiting good chances for your opponent than counting on getting pucks in the back of the net. The latter being subject to the dreaded “puck luck” is something Islanders fans will be well acquainted with, while the former being more closely related to the above description of Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, “You don’t give the opponent what they want, you play disciplined hockey and wait for your opponent to give you an opening.”
Through Lamoriello’s first 10 seasons (1987-88 to 1996-97) at the head of the Devils, they were 6th in the league with 3.15 GA/G and 14th in GF/G at 3.37 during the regular season. During the next 10 seasons (97-98 to 06-07) under Lou, they would not miss the playoffs once and were 2nd in the league with 2.30 GA/G and 7th with 2.83 GF/G. Over the two seasons they would make the playoffs and win, the team was 7th with 2.48 GA/G and 2nd with 3.06 GF/G in 99-01 and tied for 1st with a meager 2.02 GA/G and 14th with 2.63 GF/G.
These numbers all reflect a similar strategy to what Lou is trying to implement with the current Islanders team – suppress goals to the detriment of your offense.
The biggest hurdle, in my mind, that he’s going to face in mapping the Isles onto those Devils team is personnel. Those three Devils Stanley Cup teams had three hall of fame players in Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur, with a possible fourth on the ‘99-‘00 and ‘02-‘03 teams in Patrick Elias. Unfortunately, I don’t see that level of talent on this current Islanders roster.
However, it still feels to me that if anyone can accomplish a Stanley Cup by gestalt it would be Barry Trotz. Call me a homer, but it also feels like if anyone can craft a few of Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Oliver Wahlstrom, Ryan Pulock, Ryan Pelech, Noah Dobson, and Ilya Sorokin into reasonable facsimiles of Elias, Stevens, Niedermayer, and Brodeur, it might just be Barry Trotz.
Part 3 next Thursday will take a look at the outrageous numbers the Devils defense-first system was able to put up in the playoffs and whether or not the Islanders are capable of matching them in today’s game.
Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericsvogel