In their first five games under Patrick Roy, the Islanders looked, understandably, like a team in transition — taking to a new system well, but hitting stumbling blocks along the way.
In the sixth game, they looked like a team that had wholly embraced what the new head coach has preached.
And they got the result to show it, beating the Lightning 6-2 on Thursday at UBS Arena in an offensive explosion for their second-straight win following the All-Star break, with the crowd chanting Roy’s name as time ticked down in the third period.
On a night where everything went right for the Islanders, even injury luck was in their favor with Casey Cizikas back in the lineup and Brock Nelson returning for the third period after spending part of the second in the dressing room following a hit from Emil Martinsen Lilleberg.
Just as important, they played perhaps their best all-around game of the season.
The Islanders swarmed the puck. They played up the ice.
They lived in the offensive zone. They dominated for shifts at a time.
They forechecked aggressively and effectively, making life hell when the Lightning tried to get through the neutral zone.
“For us to get that one, to have [Ryan] Pulock back, Cizikas back healthy — you can just feel the locker room open up a little bit,” Mathew Barzal said. “Shoulders more at ease. That kinda stuff. We feel good. We feel like we’re ready for a big second half.”
This performance, by the way, came against a team the Islanders are chasing in the playoff race, a team that has long been one of the league’s measuring sticks.
The Islanders had won just seven games by two or more goals prior to this one.
But Roy is not a coach who prefers to stay conservative.
“My goal is to have a game that excites our fans and wins hockey games,” Roy said Thursday morning, repeating a sentiment he has expressed since his hiring. That is just what the Islanders did in this one.
It took the Islanders just 4:07 to get on the board, with Noah Dobson’s cross-ice feed ricocheting off a Tampa defender and in.
Nikita Kucherov’s point shot at the 6:42 mark of the first — one of just three shots on goal the Islanders allowed in a dominant first 20 minutes — marked a temporary setback when it deflected off an Islander stick and in.
But the Islanders quickly got back to their game.
By the first intermission, it was 3-1 thanks to Barzal roofing a backhand following an offensive-zone faceoff and Kyle Palmieri finishing off Mike Reilly’s feed to the crease.
This was a first period for setting the tone — and unlike so many other times this year, that tone continued for all 60 minutes.
Asked whether it was the most complete game the Islanders had played under his tutelage thus far, Roy responded in the affirmative.
“The commitment that the guys made: Backchecking, coming back, tracking, blocking shots. Things that don’t require talent but just will and that’s what we had tonight,” Roy said. “The will was phenomenal.”
Brandon Hagel’s power-play goal 1:14 into the second appeared to inject some life into Tampa.
But the Islanders quickly regained momentum on a flurry of goals from Pulock, Bo Horvat and Cizikas to effectively put the game away by the second intermission.
After Pulock returned to the lineup in Toronto on Monday, it was his first goal in over two months.
And for Cizikas, who missed the past 10 games with a lower-body injury, it had been nearly as long, with his last goal coming Dec. 13.
It did not hurt matters that Jonas Johansson had a terrible night in nets for the Bolts.
But just as impressive as their offensive output: the Islanders allowed just 10 shots on goal in the game’s first 40 minutes and 17 shots total.
“It’s a commitment from everybody,” Roy said. “Working as a unit of five offensively, defensively, in the neutral zone, if we continue to do this I think we’re gonna continue to improve as a team. Not saying we’re gonna give below 20 shots every night but it feels good to see that what we’re doing works well.”
The Islanders are still below the playoff cutline, two points short of the Flyers and Red Wings.
But if Roy can make something of this Islanders season, that is how it will look.
He knows that as well as anyone.
“Tonight, everyone was playing well against everyone,” he said, at the end of his press conference. “That’s what I wish would happen every night, basically.”