Ahead of their upcoming four-game road trip, the New York Islanders have a lot to feel good about. They’ve won back-to-back games for the first time this season and did so with a strong work ethic, character and resilience. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are among the league’s leaders in scoring and the top line is quickly developing on-ice chemistry.
On the onset of the seven day trip to Washington, Raleigh, Columbus and Montreal, the Islanders can also feel great about their play on the road dating back to last season.
The Islanders flipped the convention that playing on the road is a disadvantage in 2012-13, skating to a 14-6-4 road record. On road trips four games or longer, the Isles went 9-3-3 and didn’t have a losing record on any of them.
Head coach Jack Capuano credits details, good habits and hard work for his teams’ success.
“Guys know our system and how we need to play. For us to execute and have success, it’s a function of playing physical, it’s how we manage the puck. It’s our discipline in all three zones and doing the right things.”
The penalty kill is one of those strong points, as the Isles have killed off 93% of their trips to the sin bin in five road games this season. Capuano said he likes what he’s seen from all four lines and he’s confident using any of his combinations against the opposition. The keys to a successful trip remain the same up and down the lineup: simplify the game, channel the negative energy in the building and play physically.
“Part of the thing about playing on the road is not being pretty about it,” Travis Hamonic said. “You have to make the simple play when you can. And I think those are fun games to play. It’s always a tough environment we’re going into, but it’s good.”
With three of the four games against the Metropolitan division, the buildings won’t be friendly to the Islanders. Especially for a physical player like Cal Clutterbuck, whose hits won’t be greeted with the same cheers as they are at Nassau Coliseum.
“There’s a different feel and a different energy,” said Clutterbuck. “You have to create your own energy, your own enthusiasm. Every boo is a cheer on the road.”
The guys here are very close. There’s no separation from the youngest to the oldest guy - Thomas Vanek
The Islanders embark on their trip with two straight road wins, a 6-5-3 record overall and in second place in the division. Thinking about last years’ success won’t put space between themselves and third-place Washington, but replicating Friday’s gutsy 5-4 win in Ottawa, where the Islanders overcame adversity and put everything on net, will.
“We’ve had some games at home slip away from us here, so it’s going to be important to get some points on the trip,” Clutterbuck said. “(We need to) keep it simple. We played a pretty efficient road game in Ottawa, so we are trying to emulate that as much as possible and give ourselves the best chance at coming back with as many points as possible.”
The four-game swing is the longest of the Isles season thus far, but provides the secondary benefit of giving the players extra time to bond off the ice. For a recent acquisition like Thomas Vanek, spending more time to get to know a tightly-knit room can only help.
“The guys here are very close. There’s no separation from the youngest to the oldest guy,” Vanek said. “Guys get along, they care about each other and you can see in the games, they play hard for each other.”
That doesn’t mean the Austrian star is immune to some ribbing or road trip pranks.
“You always get that,” he said. “It probably starts with Bolts (Eric Boulton) and ends with Bolts… After a few days you get to know everyone and dish it back.”
The Islanders kick off a four-game trip Tuesday night in DC against the Capitals. Puck drop is 7 p.m.