ELMONT, N.Y. — Patrick Roy’s ceaseless pacing during his debut as New York Islanders head coach on Sunday easily suggested that there was some anxiety for the 56-year-old Hockey Hall-of-Famer, who was coaching his first NHL game in seven-and-a-half years.
“I was very nervous, I won’t lie,” Roy said. “I did [have to calm myself down]. At some point, I have to let the players play the game and be themselves and that’s what I tried to do.”
Perhaps some unease can be eased by a victory. His Islanders snapped a four-game losing streak and defeated one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars, 3-2 in overtime to make the new head coach 1-for-1 behind the New York bench.
Don’t expect the intensity to cool down anytime soon, though balance is important.
“That’s how I am,” Roy, the legendary goalie, said. “When I was playing, I was vocal in the net. I was talking to the players. I love to do the exact same thing [now]. I try to find the balance. Sometimes it’s too much and sometimes, I just try to stay [even keel]. I’m still learning.
“It’s [the players’] moment. You want to have that intensity and you want to show the players, but they know that I’m here to win and they know I’m going to be there for them.”
The early returns are more than promising. The Islanders showed gumption that had been missing in their game for weeks — ultimately leading to the firing of Lane Lambert on Saturday — as they overturned a 2-1 third-period deficit against a team that had won 19 of 22 games this season when leading after two periods.
Mathew Barzal, in particular, is already all-in on Roy’s philosophy of high-intensity, emotional motivation.
“That’s just Patty Roy. I personally love it,” he said. “That really carries over to everyone in the locker room and especially on the bench. All game, just positive energy. Just energy. That’s exactly what we really needed.”
Barzal’s first game under Roy featured a pair of assists in the victory, including the primary helper that sprunt Bo Horvat on a breakaway for the overtime winner just 41 seconds in.
The two points for the Islanders catapulted them from sixth in a tightly-contested Metropolitan Division to fourth entering Monday night’s slate of games — just four points separating them from the third-place Carolina Hurricanes and a non-Wild-Card playoff spot.
A win was important just to stop the recent snide. The four-game losing streak that was snapped was a part of a run that saw the Islanders lose eight of their last 10 games.
Suddenly, the tune has changed from what Barzal described as “treading water,” to the resuming of a playoff push. A lot of that has to do with Roy, who was only introduced as New York’s head coach on Saturday evening and met his players for the first time on Sunday morning.
“This just catapults us into the rest of the season, really,” Barzal said. “There were times in that game where we set a standard for ourselves that we needed to uphold for the rest of the year: We’re not going to be perfect every night, but we played a heck of a hockey team but we were controlling the pace and bringing pucks back.
“The language that Patty was speaking tonight touched differently and was new from maybe what we were used to a little bit. His new philosophy on certain things translated really well and smoothly.”
Amongst that new philosophy is a focus on puck possession. A defense that Roy admitted at times is “a little afraid to leave the net front,” can move the puck and stretch out the opposition.
That creates more gaps for Barzal — one of the elite skaters and playmakers in the NHL — to dissect the opposing defense. Rather than sitting back and absorbing pressure, Roy wants Barzal and the Islanders to be on the attack more often.
That philosophy couldn’t be aligned more with Barzal’s game, which at times has been muted within previous Islanders’ systems. Regardless, the All-Star’s two-point night upped his season total to 48 points in 45 games.
“Holding the puck, wanting to tilt the ice — that’s music to my ears,” Barzal said. “The language [Roy] is speaking, I just feel like he resonates with me. He wants possession, he wants me to be me and I like that.”
Roy’s passion also strikes a chord with Barzal, who has made it known in recent weeks that he plays his best hockey when there’s an emotional edge to his game. That’s something the new head coach can tap into.
“I need to play with some fire in my game, that’s when I’m playing at my best, and he immediately brings fire to the room,” Barzal said. “In a way, this could be a great duo.”