Islanders’ Adjustments Leading to Overtime Success

3-on-3 Overtime Format, Barry Trotz, Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Since the 3-on-3 overtime has been in effect since the 2015-16 season, it sure seems like the New York Islanders have figured out how to be successful in the extra session. With the NHL looking for any possible ways for games to not go to a shootout, they moved to the 3-on-3 and had some crazy games come to exciting ends.

While the last few years haven’t always yielded wins for the Islanders in overtime, they are now 5-2 on the season in games ending in sudden death following their win Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights. Let’s take a look at how they have been so successful and who has contributed to the success.

How They’ve Done It

For the Islanders, it has been pretty simple. His name is Mat Barzal. While he generally remains on the bench for the first shift of overtime, the Islanders have done a nice job at winning the opening faceoff to gain immediate puck possession.

“You get to show your skills a little bit and hang to the puck a little bit more,” Barzal said. “I probably hung on to it for a little too long, but I was just trying to find holes and find (Anders Lee). They did a good job tonight.”

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New York ranks right in the middle of the pack in faceoff wins at 50 percent, but to start overtime, they have won the faceoff in six of their seven games that ended in the five minutes.

Mathew Barzal
NEWARK, NJ – FEBRUARY 24: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders controls the puck in front of Jesper Bratt #63 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

In overtime, teams generally playing man-on-man defense as they cycle the puck in the opponent’s zone. Most of the time, the Islanders have no desire of actually shooting, as they would rather wear out the defenders, which allows the Islanders to make a line change. This allows them to restart in the neutral zone with fresh bodies, while not allowing the other team to complete the long change. If they attempt to change, that is when the Islanders can open it up and come in on an odd-man rush. 

Despite Barzal and Alexander Ovechkin being totally different players, head coach Barry Trotz also never used his superstar to start overtime in Washington. He would generally put out one of his best faceoff guys, then switch Ovechkin on. He has done just that in his time in New York with Barzal.

New York Islanders Mathew Barzal
New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal celebrates. (AP Photo/Jim McIsaac)

The Islanders almost always go with the two forwards and one defenseman look, which is different from what they did with their former head coach in Jack Capuano. The Islanders used to always start with two defenders prior to Trotz and played most of their time in their own end, leading to their poor success. However, with two forwards, they are able to play a much stronger puck possession game.

Individual Success

While Barzal has yet to score an overtime winner this season, he was never better than Thursday night against the Golden Knights. Barzal kept possession of the puck at one point for 58 seconds, tempting the Golden Knights to change. While it didn’t lead to a goal, he was eventually able to draw a penalty that led to Ryan Pulock’s overtime goal.

It was the first time since the Islanders’ opening night in 2018-19 season that they scored the game-winning goal on a power play. The Islanders rank second-last in penalties drawn and haven’t had many opportunities to win games on the man advantage, but they managed to win the puck off the draw on the power play to set Pulock up for the win.

“There are a few in the league that can do that,” said Trotz. “Obviously the (Connor) McDavid’s, (Nathan) MacKinnon’s and Barzal’s. They have something we all dream about in some ways. He is one of our best for sure.”

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Earlier this season, Brock Nelson went back-to-back games with game-winners and had one earlier this season against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also have one from Devon Toews against the St. Louis Blues, who scored his first NHL goal last season in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Trotz mainly likes to use Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier as top top unit. Meanwhile, Barzal has most recently played with Lee and Josh Bailey but will see time with Derick Brassard. On the back end, the Islanders have the advantage of using three mobile defensemen in Nick Leddy, Toews, and Pulock who are not afraid to lead the rush. They all have contributed game-winners the past few seasons and are dangerous with the open ice.

New York Islanders Devon Toews
New York Islanders defenseman Devon Toews (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Another tactic the Islanders like to use is sending out their best defensive forward in overtime. For them, that is Casey Cizikas. He hasn’t started out any overtimes this season, but like how Trotz used Jay Beagle with Washington, Cizikas is just in for the opening faceoff or a defensive-zone draw. Once possession is won, he then rushes to the bench for a more offensively-inclined forward to come out.

Up next, the Islanders will continue their road trip with a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. They will then travel to Sunrise to play the Florida Panthers two nights later before returning home.

All stats from this story are courtesy of Hockeyreference.com and NHL.com

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