Just two years after leading the Capitals to a Stanley Cup, Barry Trotz has taken the New York Islanders to the Eastern Conference Final. The Islanders defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 7 on Saturday to close out the series and defeat the top-seeded team in the conference.
New York struck twice in the first period putting the Flyers immediately in a bad position by having to chase against a defensively stingy team. The Islanders suffocated Philadelphia from then on, limiting the Flyers to just nine shots on goal through two periods and 16 overall helping goalie Thomas Greiss earn the shutout victory.
In the 2018 offseason, John Tavares left the Islanders to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs and most expected New York to bottom-out as a result. Trotz, however, came in and led the team to the playoffs in 2019 and a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in just his first year behind the bench in Long Island. For his efforts, Trotz was named the Jack Adams Award winner as coach of the year. He has now topped that season with a trip to the conference final, a run that includes a first-round series win over the Capitals in just five games.
Trotz is showing the effect the right coach can have on a team. General manager Lou Lamoriello also deserves credit as well as he has tailored the group to Trotz's strengths and Trotz is optimizing the lineup. On paper, the Islanders do not appear more talented than the Caps, Philadelphia or the Florida Panthers whom New York defeated in the qualifying round. New York has certainly bought into Trotz's system and it has brought them farther than perhaps anyone could have expected in 2020.
Though Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said losing to a specific opponent played no factor in Todd Reirden's dismissal as head coach, there is no doubt the series highlighted the disparity in coaching between the two teams. Reirden, who is an excellent assistant coach but was in just his second season as a head coach, was completely outmatched by Trotz and Washington seemingly had no answers for Trotz's suffocating defense. For a team looking to make a Cup run in its final years of the Alex Ovechkin championship window, 2020 showed the importance of finding the right coach to get the most out of the Caps' roster. That's something Reirden did not do in either of his two seasons. Trotz did it in 2018 and has been able to do it two years now in Long Island.