It was one of those moments that helps define the personality of a team.
So the Islanders were proud of the way they responded after their captain, Anders Lee, was hurt on a huge, clean hit from veteran Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall late in the first period in Detroit on Saturday. At the time, they were down 2-0 and were coming off a 6-2 drubbing in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Lee had his head down and the puck at his feet when Kronwall put his shoulder right through Lee’s collarbone, driving Lee’s own visor into the skin right above the top of his lip and crunching the top of his helmet into his forehead, eventually needing a total of 12 stitches.
With Lee’s blood stains still on the ice, mild-mannered Josh Bailey got into a fight with Dylan Larkin, and later, Johnny Boychuk beat the crud out of Justin Abdelkader, leaving the Red Wings winger’s face a mangled mess. More importantly, the Islanders came back and won the game, 3-2, with a goal from Matt Martin early in the third period.
“We talk about that being old-school, but it should be new-school. If your team doesn’t have that, then I can tell you what the end result is going to be,” coach Barry Trotz said Monday morning before his club’s second game of the season back at the Coliseum, this one against the Penguins. “I think a lot of teams have that, the form of push-back. That’s what you want. If you don’t, you’re not going to go very far.
“You can call it whatever you want, but they poked the bear, if you will, and the bear responded,” Trotz continued. “I thought we responded the right way. We came at them, not only from a physical standpoint, we just came the right way. You finished your checks, you got on them, you created turnovers, you checked well, you played the full length of the ice, you were committed in situations, your special teams got it done, and you got a big save when you need it. You can call it old-school, but it’s just good hockey sometimes.”
Lee didn’t have an issue with the hit, saying it was “clean as could be.” Despite having some “cobwebs,” as he described it, he was able to return to the game and was set to be in the lineup again Monday night.
He also made it clear that it was encouraging to see that response from his teammates.
“Big character win,” Lee said. “It shows the guys we have in here and how we believe in each other. To see the fights and how the guys rose to the occasion, it was awesome.”
It was difficult to predict what was expected of this group, with Trotz in his first year behind the bench and Lou Lamoriello in his first year in the team president’s office. But with the departure of former captain John Tavares, who signed a free-agent deal with his hometown Maple Leafs, the club felt it was important to fill that leadership void. So the “C” was sown onto Lee’s sweater, and he and the team have embraced it.
“I think it was important to have someone replace Tavares,” Trotz said. “Everything seemed to go through JT as the captain, as it should. I just didn’t feel there should be a void there. If there wasn’t anybody there, then we wouldn’t have a captain. But it ended up being a pretty easy decision when you get to observe and you watch and you listen, all those little things, you realize that you have someone in place that can step in there and lead the guys the right way and replace the great job that John did over the years.”
If the quality of this young team is still to be determined, that one game in Detroit at least went a long way toward defining their character.
“When you have a team as close as we are this year, it’s an automatic response,” said alternate captain Cal Clutterbuck. “We added a level of anger to our game and they weren’t able to answer.”