Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and Predators left wing Viktor Arvidsson fight for the puck on Oct. 6, 2018, at Barclays Center.

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Graziano: Defense Still A Work In Progress For Trotz, Islanders

Team Still Adjusting To Coach's Changes

October 18, 2018 - 1:32 pm
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Matt Martin, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Cal Clutterbuck -- all four players have told me over the past two weeks about the changes Barry Trotz has made as the new head coach of the Islanders. That the team was still adjusting to them, still learning about them. After five games, the 2-3-0 Islanders sure look like a work in progress, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

It was Pulock who told me last week: "It’s a new system, and we’re starting to catch on. It’s a lot of little changes rather than one big thing. But at the end of the day, everyone has to do their job.”

Trotz followed that up Tuesday by telling Newsday’s Andrew Gross: “It’s everything. You’ve got to have trust in your teammate. Execution comes in many forms, and it adds trust and speed into your game. When you get guys on their own agenda, one guy has got the plan and the four other guys are standing around watching.”

Thus far, defense has definitely been a struggle, and names have already been thrown into the "line juggler," a term made infamous under the tenure of former head coach Jack Capuano. The Pelech-Pulock combination, which started as the team’s No. 1 unit, logging over 20 minutes of ice time, has struggled with Pelech sporting a 5v5 Corsi-for percentage of 44.1 and Pulock even worse at 41.6. Neither looks confident right now in his own end.

Johnny Boychuk (41.6) and Nick Leddy (38.1) have not been much better, and Thomas Hickey (46.8) has rotated with Luca Sbisa (42.1) and Scott Mayfield (53.2) to mixed results. In a 4-1 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday night, Trotz used the duos of Leddy-Pulock, Sbisa-Boychuk and Hickey-Mayfield, with Pelech’s slow start having him start the road trip in the press box.

The goals against are not too bad, with 14 allowed in the first five games, but the chances, should they continue to pile up, will spell bad news for a defense still trying to find its way. New York is already up to 158 shots against (31.6 per game), 252 five-on-five shot attempts (50.4 per game) and have won 46.6 percent of faceoffs. They are 28th in the league in team possessions. It’s imprudent and irresponsible to sound any major alarms with such a small sample size, especially coming off a tumultuous offseason. However, it’s never too early to take a peek.

In terms of the offense, the team looks slow, but that could just be early-season cobwebs that they are brushing away from their faces, as they looked improved Wednesday. Mathew Barzal looks as dominant as ever, the only Islanders forward with the skill to break the offensive zone with any consistency. Anthony Beauvillier is not quite ready to be a first-line winger (not sure he is to begin with), and Brock Nelson is Brock Nelson. Good one game, invisible the next. His battle with consistency is going to be the biggest driver of this offense all season to take pressure off the top line. Leo Komarov has a contract that is impossible to play up to, so he needs to be his agitating self at even strength.

In sunny and warm California until Sunday, the Islanders are getting their West Coast swing out of the way early, which presents both challenges and opportunities.

The challenge is trying to take four points from the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, two of the top teams in the Western Conference. These trips have defined seasons in the past, both in good and bad fashion.

The opportunity is for a team to jell and come together under the leadership of Trotz and his coaching staff, all new hires with the exception of Scott Gomez. By the time the Islanders take the ice next Wednesday in Brooklyn against the Florida Panthers, more of the curtain will be lifted on who they really are, in the here and now.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN