The new regime of Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello changed the whole dynamic for the New York Islanders. Now players are using that clean slate to prove themselves.
The New York Islanders knew coming into this season that their lineup lost some offensive power.
They expected Calder Trophy Winner Mathew Barzal, and 40-goal scorer Anders Lee to pick up most of the slack left behind from John Tavares. What they did not foresee is players like Andrew Ladd, Valtteri Filppula and Brock Nelson taking the moment for themselves.
Through the Islanders first 14 games this season, the top-six forward group has been good, but not great. It took Jordan Eberle eight games until he scored his first goal, Lee got off to a slow start in the first few games and Barzal is no longer a point per game player (as of now). Instead, there have been some unsung heroes while the top-six figures it out.
In the bottom-six you have Filppula. His best years were left behind in Tampa Bay, no doubt. There, he was the second or third line center behind Steven Stamkos and company having great chances to provide secondary scoring in a deep forward group. He goes to Philadelphia and seems lost on the Flyers for two years. Enter Lou Lamoriello and the new Isles staff. The 34-year-old center looks reborn in an Islanders uniform. He’s collected eight points in 14 games with a total of five goals so far. In the event he isn’t producing on the scoresheet, his play still makes him noticeable on a consistent basis.
His penalty killing and faceoff percentage are the two main aspects of Filppula’s game that set him apart. Using a small sample size of 14 games, Filppula’s faceoff percentage is actually low at 49.5 percent. He leads the first unit of penalty killers onto the ice whenever they’re called upon. Despite the Isles middle of the pack penalty kill at 79.5 percent, Filppula does what he does best – he simplifies the game by making clearing the puck out and making the smart play.
As for coaching, head coach Barry Trotz is a much different person than the likes of former head coaches Doug Weight and Jack Capuano. Trotz will hold players accountable. Therefore, if Filppula’s line is playing well, that group of forwards will find themselves on the ice in the final minutes of the game. And he and his linemates have in multiple occurrences. Especially Ladd.
Veteran forward Ladd has had a dark cloud over him for virtually his entire time in an Islanders uniform. Part of that is because of the price the organization is paying him. Ladd was brought in on a $5.5 million price tag because of his past experience and leadership on several clubs. It’s easy to say that he hasn’t lived up to that number though.
Now, under Trotz and Lamoriello, he too looks rejuvenated and like there’s life in his old bones. Ladd scored just three goals between March 15 and April 7 of last season but, suffered through a 23-game goalless drought. That doesn’t include time missed due to injury. Now, he has six points, three goals, and three assists in 14 games. And in games he’s not scoring, he’s doing the little things right like getting in the opposition’s passing lanes and playing that two-way game he was known for in Winnipeg. He was never the guy to contend for the team lead in points but, if he can at least be productive once in a while and get back to between 35-50 points instead of 20-30, he’ll be worth the remaining money.
Then there’s the young veteran Nelson. The center/winger has worked his way up from the third line and into the top-six and is still figuring things out. He’s looked good early on in the 2018-19 campaign, but his problem is that he’s always looked good early. The opening month has been dubbed “Brocktober” by Islanders fans for a reason. This year feels different, however. Playing under a consistent system in Trotz has helped Nelson so far, and there’s no reason for it to stop unless he has an underlying confidence issue no one knows about.
Playing on a line with Lee and Josh Bailey will do the Minnesota-native good. Those players learned how to play against the best checkers in the league and now it’s Nelson’s time to grow into that number two center role behind Barzal. Currently, Nelson has 10 points in 15 games with seven goals. His faceoff percentage is at a dismal 43.75 percent, although he was never very good at that. Nelson’s primary job should be to contribute to scoring, especially since he has finally cracked the top-six on a night-in-night-out basis. On a one-year contract worth $4.25 million, this is a “prove it” year for the 27-year-old.
The Islanders certainly look different since mid-June and early July. Not just the roster but how they carry themselves as a team. That is all thanks to the way Lamoriello and Trotz have run this team. So far the Isles have proven to some of the best teams in the league that they won’t go down without a fight and they find themselves amongst the top of the Metropolitan Division. Three players in particular who looked down and out last season, look rejuvenated and ready to go for every contest.
Early on, they’re proving that this year is different.