The formula is based in the collective. It’s based on the Islanders having just about everyone going, on them being physical, on them competing harder on every puck.
Far more than talent, that is what has gotten them here, still battling for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. That has been the most impressive thing of Barry Trotz’s first year behind the bench, getting them to work so damn hard every night.
It’s exactly what slipped during this recent three-week malaise, and it’s exactly what returned for a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets on Monday night at the Coliseum.
All that was needed was a Ryan Pulock goal just 6:11 into the first period, and goalie Thomas Greiss did the rest, needing 31 saves to pick up his fifth shutout of the season and his second against Columbus. More importantly, after Anders Lee added an empty netter, it was enough to give the team a semblance of stability.
“We talk about commitment and battle, we had lots of it,” said Trotz, who was showered with a chorus of his name from fans as he walked to his postgame press conference.
“We probably defended more than we wanted to, but they really didn’t get much. They had some zone time, and we defended really hard. That’s that battle level. They were going to come, the defense was going to jump [in the play]. They did all that, they tried everything. We did a really good job, and at the end of the day, Greisser made a couple really good saves that were key, and we got some key blocks at the end.
“That’s how the Islanders win.”
So now these Islanders (40-22-7) again start looking up, trying to put the 4-5-1 stretch they brought into Monday behind them as they’re two points behind the Capitals for tops in the division. And they look down at John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets (38-28-3), who are still adjusting to the big-time changes they made at the trade deadline while trying to keep postseason positioning in what is turning out to be a tight race from top to bottom.
“It’s that time of year, where that team is literally fighting for their lives,” said Cal Clutterbuck, who returned from a three-game injury absence and picked up seamlessly while setting the physical tone with his longtime linemates, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. “We probably could have executed better in the third, but when it came down to it, we were getting pucks over the blue line.”
That would be the final 20 minutes when the Islanders managed just one shot on goal in the first 15 minutes, and didn’t have a real scoring chance until Lee’s empty netter with 1:30 remaining. Yet for all the time that Columbus had in the Islanders’ zone, there really weren’t too many terrific scoring chances.
“There were a couple loose pucks there where, quite honestly, in the last five games, we would’ve [seen] an opposing sweater there to tap it in,” Clutterbuck said. “There were three of us there, and we were able to clear them out. That’s a talented team, and they played hard. And so did we.”
There was talk about this being a four-point game, with the Blue Jackets one of the teams that could push the Islanders if they falter. But more than the opponents, it’s about the Islanders remembering the effort it takes for them to win every night.
“Just battling, the whole team was battling,” said Greiss, who has full control of the net while Robin Lehner recovers from his presumed head injury suffered a week ago. “We played a tight game, tighter at the net. Guys did a great job blocking shots and working hard.”
Another Eastern Conference foe with postseason intentions rolls into the Coliseum in the Canadiens on Thursday, but the Isles might have just remembered their identity.
“Our strength is the group, the whole pie,” Trotz said. “That’s how we’ve been successful all year, and that’s how we’re going to continue to be successful.”