ELMONT, N.Y. — Patrick Roy has been installing his new system with the New York Islanders bit by bit over the last 17 days, adding things to practices and morning skates and video sessions each day. There’s been progress, some things he’s liked and some things that still need work.
It took until Game 6 of the Roy era, but the Islanders put on a display that earned straight As across the board from their new coach. A 6-2 win came against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that still looked a bit shell-shocked from the gruesome injury that defenseman Mikhail Sergachev suffered the night before — and also had its backup goalie in net — but it was still the kind of performance Roy has been looking for.
“We don’t want to be a defensive team,” Roy said on Thursday morning. “We want to be a team that plays well defensively. We want some offense in our game. My goal is to have a game that excites our fans. If we’re good defensively, we’ll have the puck and then everybody’s going to have a good time watching our team. Including our players.”
The goal is to be more aggressive in the defensive zone, to disrupt opposing plays before they’re set up. The Islanders were allowing 35 shots a game under Lane Lambert; they’ve allowed 31.5 a game under Roy, with 17 allowed to Tampa on Thursday, the second-fewest the Isles have allowed this season.
The Islanders’ offense had stagnated a bit the last month under Lambert. They scored six times in 40 minutes on Thursday, with even-strength goals from all four lines.
Two Islanders who were frequently in Lambert’s doghouse, Pierre Engvall and Oliver Wahlstrom, figured in goals on Thursday. Engvall won a power-play draw back for Ryan Pulock’s goal to make it 4-2 in the second and Wahlstrom, even though he didn’t get a point, occupied space in front of the Tampa Bay net on Noah Dobson’s game-opening goal that banked off Erik Cernak’s skate.
Engvall had the winner late in Monday’s win in Toronto. Wahlstrom made a huge mistake earlier in that third period, taking a needless neutral-zone penalty that led to the Leafs’ tying goal; Roy made sure to put Wahlstrom out for a shift with his regular linemates soon after.
“It’s just a matter of trust,” Roy said of Wahlstrom. “You know, I made some mistakes as a player and I always had another chance. I love to give our guys a chance to be back in the game. There’s nothing worse for a player if you make a mistake, you sit out and the next shift is all (gripping) the stick tight and it’s tougher and tougher.”
And there was the dreaded moment, the first under Roy, when the Islanders took a multi-goal lead. That was the biggest failing this season with Lambert — the Islanders were good enough to take a multi-goal lead in nearly half of their first 30 games but gave back that lead a dozen times. The Islanders were 5-1-6 in those games, and the wasted points were certainly a factor in Lambert’s firing.
So when Tampa Bay cut the deficit to 3-2 just 1:14 into the second and started to press, perhaps some queasiness came back to the Islanders’ bench. But they didn’t wilt.
“It’s nice to have a nice structure, but there’s also the mindset,” Roy said. “What do we want to do if we give up a goal? What do we want to do if we score? We talk a lot about that. Maybe there was a moment (Thursday) where I thought we start losing our focus a bit, but they’re so receptive right now, we just have a good talk on the bench and the guys got their focus back. It’s a very good group. Very special.”
Parise reflects on Islanders tenure
Zach Parise, who spent the last two seasons with the Islanders, made his Avalanche debut on Monday against the Rangers, playing 11:24 and collecting three shots. The veteran signed with Colorado ahead of the All-Star Break and said this will be his final NHL season.
After last season, Parise said he likely would either retire or re-sign with the Islanders. But New York has had an up-and-down first 50 games and currently sits outside playoff position. The Avalanche, meanwhile, are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, something Parise has never done in 18 NHL seasons.
Speaking ahead of his debut on Monday, Parise danced around a question about whether the Islanders’ record impacted his decision.
“It’s tough to answer that question,” he said. “I loved playing on the island. It’s such a great organization, people, and those last two years were awesome. Things happen. There’s conversations that you have. Again, I just really loved playing there.”
Although Parise didn’t go into his thought process regarding the Islanders, former teammate Mat Barzal told reporters that, “if we would have won eight of the games that we probably could have this year, and we were 15 (or) 16 points, 10 points even, ahead of where we’re at today, I’m sure he’d been in blue and orange.”
Those comments made their way back to Parise.
“He’s a great guy,” Parise said. “I loved playing with him. All I can say is, I really loved playing there with those guys.”
(Photo of Ilya Sorokin and Casey Cizikas: Dennis DaSilva / NHLI via Getty Images)