ELMONT, N.Y. — Nine days ago, Patrick Roy was coaching junior hockey in Quebec. Now, he’s heading into the NHL All-Star break as head coach of the New York Islanders having already played three of the best teams in hockey.
“It was a pretty nice welcome,” Roy said with a grin following his team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at UBS Arena. “We played [the Dallas Stars] who are one of the premier teams [in the Western Conference], we played [the Vegas Golden Knights] who won the Stanley Cup last year and we played the Stanley Cup finalists in Florida.”
Over his first four games as Islanders head coach, Roy has collected three of a possible eight points, losing three of those first four games, but dropping each of those results by just a single goal. All the while, he’s been attempting to institute a new system on the fly preaching more aggressive, attacking hockey while maintaining a structure that has long alluded the team this year — ultimately resulting in the firing of Lane Lambert.
Early returns have been generally positive. While turnovers and penalties are still in need of being ironed out, shots are up. They’ve averaged 34.75 shots per game since Roy’s arrival compared to the 29.5 per night under Lambert this season. Defensemen are invited to join the attack and defensive zone exits are becoming more intricate to spark meaningful transitional play.
And they’ve been doing this against some of the NHL’s best teams.
“That’s what you want,” Roy said. “You want to be measuring against top teams and you want to see if what you’re doing works. Quite honestly, I know what we’re doing works and I hope the players feel the same.”
If star winger Mathew Barzal’s opinion means anything — which it obviously does — then the answer is a resounding yes.
“Just look at our game. Wins-losses is one thing but at the end of the day, we’re building a blueprint that is going to allow us to become champions,” Barzal said. “That’s really what it is and I feel like there’s a lot of trust in this room with that blueprint that it is going to allow us to be champions one day… I like where we’re headed.”
With the point from Saturday night’s overtime loss, the Islanders sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, just four points back of third pace, which is the final non-Wild-Card playoff spot. When considering that, zooming out, New York has won just one of its last eight games and just three of its last 14, it’s remarkably lucky.
But the belief is high with Roy at the helm — the All-Star break provides a much-needed breather for a team that is without two of their top-four defensemen in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock along with fourth-line engine Casey Cizikas.
“It’s been a tough stretch of games,” Barzal, who is headed to Toronto for the All-Star Game next weekend, said. “Getting some time off, letting the body rest. We have a couple of ailments that we got on this team with a couple of guys hurt. Hopefully, we’ll get them back right after the break and look like a fresh team coming out of the break. It allows us to reflect on new things that have come into play and really absorb it. I think it’s going to be good for us.”
As for Roy, he’s going to take advantage of some of the downtime the break provides to find a place to live on Long Island rather than commuting to a hotel every day. The Islanders return to action on Feb. 5 in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.
“I mean, I’m fresh,” Roy, who is back behind the bench in the NHL for the first time in nearly eight years, said. “I’d be happy to play tomorrow or the next day and on, but I think it’s nice to have the break for the players, for everyone… and be ready when we come back and play Toronto.”