The Capitals play the New York Islanders for the first time this season Monday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus) and there will be a familiar face behind the bench for New York. Here are a few things to watch.
Going against Barry Trotz
The last time we saw an NHL head coach leave after a championship run was in 2002 when Scotty Bowman retired after winning a third Stanley Cup in six years with the Detroit Red Wings. You have to go back to 1994, however, to find a coach who left after winning a Cup who then returned the following season with another team. Mike Keenan went from the New York Rangers to become the head coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues.
Trotz led the Caps to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in the 2017-18 season and then abruptly stepped down as head coach in the offseason after a failed contract negotiation with the team. Three days later, he was named the head coach of the New York Islanders.
There will be nothing but positive emotion for the Caps’ former bench boss heading up to Monday’s game. Along with Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn, Trotz will receive his Stanley Cup ring prior to the game. The impact he had on this team is undeniable and he will go down as one of, if not the best coach in franchise history.
But all of that will be forgotten once the puck drops.
Trotz knows the Caps about as well as anyone. In his first season on Long Island, New York is exceeding just about everyone’s expectations after star John Tavares left in the offseason. What tricks will Trotz have up his sleeve for his former team?
Islanders' much-improved defense
Andre Burakovsky ruffled some feathers after a 7-3 Caps win over the Islanders last season.
“My first three shifts, I was skating around and around and around with the puck and making plays,” Burakovsky said last season. “I mean, we didn’t really expect that out of them. We were expecting a little bit harder pressure when we had the puck. But, yeah, they just gave us a lot of ice to skate on.”
Even though he was not the head coach of the Islanders at the time, those comments must have resonated with Trotz when he took the job. That is not an acceptable defense for a Trotz-coached team, and he has dramatically improved the blue line since he got there.
Through 24 games, the Islanders are allowing 2.86 goals per game, better than the 3.13 goals the Caps are giving up this season and a lot better than the 3.57 goals New York was allowing last season.
Tom Wilson, the villain
Wilson has been fantastic since his return from suspension. He has given Washington an obvious spark and is playing exceptionally well with four goals and nine points in seven games.
But there’s always more to the story whenever Wilson visits New York.
Wilson has become somewhat of a villain among the 30 other NHL fan bases, but there are a handful of teams that take their dislike for Wilson to the next level. Pittsburgh is obviously No. 1 on that list, but the Islanders are not far behind.
The Caps and Islanders met in the playoffs in 2015, and Wilson delivered a devastating hit to Lubomir Visnovsky that still resonates with Islanders fans.
The fact that Trotz is now coaching the Islanders also adds an added wrinkle to this as he has been one of Wilson’s biggest supporters in recent years as his head coach. How do things change now with Trotz coaching the other team?
Dominating the Metro
Washington currently sits in first place of the Metropolitan Division, but the Islanders surprisingly sit in third. One of the reasons they have managed to climb the standings is how dominant they have been against divisional teams. New York is currently 9-1-0 against teams within the division with their first loss coming just last week to the New York Rangers. To compare, the Caps are only 3-2-1 within the division.
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