Trotz still looking for right combos as Islanders’ struggles continue

Barzal Islanders
The Islanders have lost five straight games.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders have looked like a shell of the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Final just four months ago as they sit second from the bottom of the East Division through nine of the NHL’s 56-game season.

They collected just two of a possible 10 points during a five-game road trip, going 0-3-2 and ending it with two straight overtime losses to the Philadelphia Flyers. Sunday night saw the Islanders overturn a 3-1 deficit in the third period to snag a point, which is what head coach Barry Trotz is hanging his hat on moving forward.

“I’m taking the positive out of it. We’re sitting there after two periods and the way the week has gone, we could’ve said ‘let’s get out of here’ and give up,” Trotz said. “We battled back, we uplifted each other… From my point, getting a point considering how the week has gone was actually pretty huge.”

A frustrating start to the season has featured a lifeless offense that has scored just 19 goals in nine games. Only the Anaheim Ducks have scored fewer goals while playing as many games as the Islanders.

There is still uncertainty in the forward groups, most notably on the third line as consistent wingers for center Jean-Gabriel Pageau are still needed. Pageau has already been forced to play with six-different linemates through nine games: Ross Johnston, Michael Dal Colle, Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, Leo Komarov, and Austin Czarnik.

Anthony Beauvillier’s lower-body injury has forced Trotz to shuffle his struggling lines further, providing more uncertainty on the attack. Only four forwards have more than one goal and three of them — Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anders Lee — are on the first line.

Yet Trotz — who debuted Czarnik and Dmitro Timashov on Sunday — believes he’s closer to deciphering a set lineup to move forward.

“The schedule will dictate that a little bit. But I’m starting to figure out which guys we need to implement, which guys are a little bit ahead in some areas,” he said. “You can practice all you want, but when you get live bullets and intensity in the games, the guys usually separate themselves a little bit.”

In a shortened season, though, time is not the Islanders’ friend right now. Entering Monday’s slate of games, they were three points out of fourth place in the division, which is the final playoff spot this year. Both the Washington Capitals and Flyers — who are at the top of the division — have opened up a seven-point cushion.

“I feel like we are [close to figuring it out],” Trotz said. “The proof is in the final production if we get the two points and if we can string some wins together. I think the guys are recognizing how hard you have to work and how hard you have to play and how detailed you have to be.

“When we’re not detailed or we have individuals who aren’t detailed, it seems to be biting us right now and we’re not getting away with it as much as maybe sometimes when things are going our way. You just have to fight through it. It’s probably, mentally, a bit hard to work through but in the end, you’re going to be a better team from it. We’re figuring it out as we go along.”

They begin a two-game home series against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum (6 p.m. ET).