We’re in a new age of professional sports where the individual player is just as marketable as the team itself.
Attitudes are implored, flashy is welcomed, star power is essential.
But that’s not necessarily the case on Long Island.
The New York Islanders have provided a well-built, team-first mantra that has catapulted them from NHL afterthought to sudden Stanley Cup contender.
Those making such claims might be getting ahead of themselves, but New York’s 4-0 Game 1 win to open up the Eastern Conference semifinals against the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers continues to warrant such talk after a five-game series win over Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Quite a surprising conversation to be having when you look at the Islanders’ roster on paper — which is something we’ve been harping on for the last two seasons under general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz.
The Islanders don’t have a superstar. They don’t have a star-studded support staff. They have a team.
And that team has completely bought into Trotz’s defense-first, organized system that continues to yield results that have been unprecedented for this franchise over the past 30 years. After all, Monday night’s convincing victory was the organization’s second win in the second round of the playoffs since 1994.
It’s all according to plan for Trotz, who continues to shock the NHL’s boy’s club that has so often overlooked the Islanders, rather showing favoritism for the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, and even the Flyers.
“The great thing about our group is that they keep everything in perspective,” Trotz said after the Game 1 win. “We have good leadership, it starts with Anders [Lee]… the communication through our organization is real solid.”
“I’m not surprised [by the result]. I knew that we’d be ready.”
New York’s captain, Anders Lee, has been a breath of fresh air to a fan base that felt betrayed by their former leader, John Tavares. He’s quickly become the embodiment of what the Islanders are: Not the most talented team, but one that works hard for each other while stressing the smart plays, not the show-stopping ones.
“We take care of one another and I think it shows on the ice. We want to be successful and want to make a run, we need to have everyone pulling the rope,” Lee, who scored the third goal of Monday night’s win, said. “Top to bottom, goalie on out, everyone that’s here in the bubble is extremely important to us.”
That mindset is never more apparent than with the Islanders’ two new acquisitions in center J.G. Pageau and 37-year-old veteran defenseman Andy Greene, both of whom were picked up at the trade deadline earlier this year.
Rather than break the bank or sap the farm system for a marquee, proven goal scorer, Lamoriello and Trotz opted to find the perfect pieces to fit the Islanders’ puzzle — even if the moves wouldn’t stop the presses.
“We identified the players that can help us and they had the commitment to it,” Trotz said. “We’re trying to establish something and create an organization that is there year-in-and-year-out so we try to identify those people.”
Both Pageau and Greene have played enormous roles in the Islanders’ postseason run — the former posting five goals in 10 playoff games while the latter has stepped in seamlessly for Johnny Boychuk, raised the game of his blue-line partner, Nick Leddy, and scored the game-winner in Game 1 against Philadelphia on Monday night.
Pageau’s done it on a revolving door of a third line, netting the second goal of Game 1 with the far-less-heralded Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston as his linemates.
Rather than sulk about not getting top-six minutes, Pageau has provided superb two-way play that’s aligned perfectly with Trotz’s philosophy.
“It doesn’t matter the player. These two guys bring 110% every day, every night, every practice,” Pageau said. “It’s just fun to be a part. Not only to play with them but this whole group. We have a lot of character and I think it shows on the ice.”
As for Greene, who began the postseason as the seventh defenseman, his play and demeanor have ingratiated himself to his teammates and the fan base.
“The time that we’ve had as a group in the various phases to get to this point and the time that it’s taken to get to this point has really endeared himself to his teammates,” Trotz said. “He’s become an Islander.”
Puck drop for Game 2 is on Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET (NBC Sports).