**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
NEW YORK — When the NHL schedule came out last July and the Golden Knights were on the docket for three games in the New York metropolitan area, two things jumped out at me:
One, the Knights were going to have to go to Long Island for the first time when they played the Islanders on Dec. 5 after playing in Brooklyn the first two seasons.
Two, this was a trip I wanted to try and make.
Second things first. I’m here amid the cold, the rain and the snow for the entire week. And yes, the game at Nassau Coliseum Thursday became the toughest of the three, which you couldn’t say was the case back in July.
My initial thought was the Devils game Tuesday in Newark would be the toughest for Vegas. New Jersey had significantly upgraded its roster. It had the No. 1 overall draft pick in Jack Hughes. Hell, the Devs even snagged Nikita Gusev from the Knights and there was a lot of hand-wringing among the SinBinners that Gusev was going to emerge as a superstar in Jersey and replace Filip Forsberg as George McPhee’s biggest gaffe as a hockey executive.
The Rangers? They’re on a youth kick, though veteran center Mika Zibanejad has had some nice games against the Knights. Still, the Knights had won in Madison Square Garden before and they figured to put enough offensive pressure against the Blueshirts’ defense corps and get a couple pucks past Henrik Lundqvist (if he plays), or more likely Alexandar Georgiev. Plus a matchup between the pipes of The King vs. Marc-Andre Fleury, both of who are headed to the Hall of Fame, would be worth the flight to the Big Apple.
As for the Islanders, I thought they would regress after last year’s amazing turnaround, especially losing goalie Robin Lehner, who was nothing short of outstanding. Of the three games, I thought this would be the best chance for the Knights to pick up two points on the trip.
That was my thought process back in July. Obviously, things have unfolded quite a bit differently since to change my mind.
The Devils may be the NHL’s biggest disappointment. The Rangers are inconsistent and despite having a winning record, struggle to finish games.
The Islanders? They figure to be the toughest opponent on the Knights’ three-game roadie which begins Monday at Madison Square Garden with the Rangers and continues Tuesday in Newark against the Devils. And not just because they’re currently the best of the three teams the Knights will face, their building is a bitch to play in.
Mat Barzal, the Isles’ all-star center, said while the team has had success both in Brooklyn and at the Coliseum, he admits the vibe is a little different at the place Islander fans call “Fort Neverlose.”
I think what makes Vegas tough is their rink is so loud. We have that similar noise level at the Coliseum. Our fans bring a lot of energy and it makes it a tough barn for opposing teams to come in and play. -Mathew Barzal, Islanders center
What really makes the Islanders tough is the culture Barry Trotz has established in his two seasons as coach. They haven’t had any slippage from last year’s turnaround when they finished second in the Metropolitan Division with 103 points and made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals before getting swept by Carolina.
There’s a confidence level that hasn’t waned, whether it was during the team’s recent franchise-record 17-game point streak or the ability to not let the three-game losing streak the Isles suffered in California which they snapped Saturday with a 2-0 shutout of Columbus at Barclays Center morph into something worse.
I think everyone trusts each other and everyone’s accountable. Everyone buys into Barry’s system and when we do things the right way, we have success. -Johnny Boychuk, Islanders defenseman
Trotz is no different than Gallant when it comes to finding ways for his team to succeed. He’ll move pieces around. He’ll tweak things if need be. And like Gallant, Trotz’s players believe in him and trust him.
You have to find different ways to win. There’s a price to pay for winning. You have to give up a little piece of yourself for the team. We’re a really close team. It breeds trust. The families live near each other. They know each other and get along. It fits in well into what we do and helped with the culture we created.” Barry Trotz, Islanders head coach
But as good as the Isles have been through the season’s first two months, they’re still looking up at Washington, Trotz’s former team, in the standings. And the reality is the Metropolitan is one tough division. The Flyers are playing better. The Penguins are managing to get by without their best player Sidney Crosby. The Hurricanes have had a rash of injuries, including Erik Haula, and they’re competing. Even the Blue Jackets, who got shut out Saturday, are no easy out.
Ironically, Gallant talked about how tough his own division has been after Friday’s shootout win over the Coyotes.
There’re no bad teams in the NHL, there really isn’t. Every team battles every night. I look at the standings and one day we’re in third or fourth place and the next day we are second to last, so you have to win every night to stay up in the standings. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be all year long. I don’t see any bad teams and we’re going to have to battle and it’s probably going to be right down to the wire, probably. -Gallant
Every team has to be able to adjust in order to stay competitive. So whether it’s moving a player from line to line or tweaking a system as Gallant has done with his defense, there’s a method to all this madness. Ultimately, the ledger indicates whether or not it succeeds.
It’s not about trying to get five or six goals every game, it’s about trying to win right now. I think the last couple of games are a real good step forward. We’ll go back to New York tonight and have three battles down there. Every game is going to be a battle. We’ve got to get prepared to play every night. -Gallant
With the Rangers playing better and the Devils trying to battle their way out of the Metropolitan cellar and the Islanders trying to catch the Capitals while staying ahead of the Flyers, Penguins and ‘Canes, this will be a challenging road trip for the Knights. It appears they will be without Cody Eakin for part, if not all of the week. And it also appears Fleury will be available following his father Andre’s passing Wednesday.
They’ll be playing in three distinctly different environments — from the bellicose fans at the Garden to the small but hardy band of fans in Newark to the rowdy bunch at the Coliseum, whatever points the Knights gain on this trip they definitely will have earned.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**