Five of the current New York Islanders group will be experiencing their first playoff run as full-time starters.
Forget leaving a mark; the New York Islanders have an opportunity to write the final chapters of the 2018-19 season.
With 103 points (three more than the super team in Toronto) and a shutout in their regular-season finale, the impact Barry Trotz had on the Islanders was the best-case scenario.
After both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss surrendered a league-worst 293 goals in the 2017-18 season, the Islanders have become the second team in exactly 100 years (Ottawa Senators 1917-18, 1918-19) to have the worst goals-against and the best goals-against in back-to-back years.
Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have allowed a league-low 191 goals and captured the William H. Jennings Trophy on the night that Lehner’s sixth shutout set a franchise record with 11 in a season by a tandem.
This is the vision Lamoriello had in place when he took control of the Islanders Hockey Operations nearly one year ago. Trotz’s staff in Lane Lambert, John Gruden, Mitch Korn and Piero Greco deserve a ton of credit for establishing a winning culture in their first season at the helm.
For the first of a five-year plan, things are likely proceeding far ahead of Lamoriello’s rumored five-year schedule.
Now that the regular season is behind them, the Islanders earned their chance to flip a mental switch and start a new journey.
For seven players, this is their first playoff run in a starting role.
In April of last season, Mathew Barzal probably never imagined this is where the team could be in one year. One Trotz later, and the young franchise center will be gearing up for his first playoff series.
Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Devon Toews, Michael Dal Colle and Adam Pelech will all skate in their first playoff games ever. Robin Lehner enters the post-season for the first time as a starting goaltender.
“Now this is the fun part! They've earned everything all year & we'll have to earn the right to keep playing in the playoffs.”
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) April 7, 2019
To Pittsburgh, and the Playoffs
A shootout loss to the New York Rangers guaranteed the Penguins to fit into the third seed, and after the Isles’ win, Nassau Coliseum will host game 1.
The same way they started out the season, the Isles will have to earn their ice time against an opponent many will likely bet on over Long Island.
Playing Pittsburgh in the post-season is nothing new to Trotz, this will be the fourth-consecutive post-season he faces them.
The all-important team growth preached by Lamoriello downward will begin taking place on Wednesday, April 10. All season long the Islanders took expectations of them to heart, and will no doubt keep doing so through an arduous playoff push that begins with an experienced opponent.
Like they’ve done all season, the Isles will take control of their own destiny. Just as many picked against them at the start of the season, the Penguins’ playoff experience and pedigree will likely land them as favorites again.
Just where the Isles want them.