Capitals reunite with Trotz, then beat Islanders
NEW YORK One of Long Island’s favorite sons, Billy Joel, once sang, “So many faces in and out of my life some will last, some will just be now and then.”
Barry Trotz’s face is no longer part of daily life around the Washington Capitals. He works on Joel’s Island now. He no longer sports his white goatee the Islanders like their employees clean-shaven, Yankees-style. He said Monday he takes the Long Island Rail Road to Islanders games.
Something about the coach feels like the Piano Man could have written a song about him.
Trotz and the Capitals held a reunion Monday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn that turned out bittersweet for the old coach. Hours after the Capitals presented Trotz his Stanley Cup ring, they defeated his Islanders 4-1 for their sixth win in a row.
Tom Wilson scored two goals, including a power-play tally late in the third period to put the game away. Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson each had two assists and Braden Holtby saved 32 shots.
Before the game, Trotz told reporters that he felt it would be good closure for the Washington chapter of his life.
“What we went through the last four years was pretty incredible in terms of the wins and losses, and some of the hard times and some of the good times,” Trotz said. “We all share that together and that’s why that bond will be there forever with that group of young men.”
Trotz brought associate coach Lane Lambert and director of goaltending Mitch Korn with him from Washington to New York. The three coaches visited the Capitals’ locker room before the game to receive their rings and say a few words. Trotz praised his old team for being “resilient (expletive) champions.”
“And I think (T.J. Oshie) and you guys said it: You can do it again, too,” Trotz said. “You’ll have to go through an Island, OK? But you guys can do it again and I sincerely say that.”
The overriding theme Monday between the coach and the Capitals was one of mutual respect. Trotz resigned from Washington when he felt the front office was not paying him like a top NHL coach, but that did not sully his opinion of the players and coaches, nor theirs of him.
Devante Smith-Pelly is still grateful for the chance Trotz took on him by signing him to a two-way contract in the summer of 2017. Tom Wilson still remembers Trotz’s knack for knowing when to “dial it in” and focus and when to share a light-hearted moment.
Todd Reirden, Trotz’s protege and successor in Washington, said he “can’t thank (Trotz) enough” for preparing him for his first NHL head coaching job.
“For the most part it’s gone really smoothly, and that’s a credit to Barry,” Reirden said. “He often put me in the situation of, ‘What would you do if you were the head coach?’ And that I can’t thank him enough for doing that. Because those were things that I played through in my own mind and it’s gotten me ready for right now.”
Just because there was affection on both sides doesn’t mean they went easy on each other. Monday’s game felt like two above-.500 division rivals duking it out. Trotz’s effect on the Islanders, who won only 35 games last year, is already evident.
The Islanders opened scoring in the first minute. After the Capitals defended a two-on-two breakaway, the puck found its way to Valtteri Filppula, who dumped in a soft goal. But minutes later, Wilson put a shot through Thomas Greiss’s five-hole to tie it.
The Capitals killed off two penalties in the beginning of the second period before Nic Dowd broke the tie. Dmitrij Jaskin left a drop pass for Dowd at the right circle, and the fourth-line center went top-shelf to score.
The teams battled evenly for another period until the Capitals finally drew their first power play of the night, which then became a 5-on-3. Trotz’s penalty killers defended the dangerous power-play unit as long as possible, until Wilson snapped one home from the slot with 13 seconds left on the penalty.
Alex Ovechkin later scored on an empty net, his 18th goal of the year. The Capitals improved to 14-7-3.
Trotz will make his return to Washington on Jan. 18. Until then, for the Capitals, it’s time for goodbye again.