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Barry Trotz wants Islanders to step up ‘commitment’ level

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Barry Trotz didn’t want to go so far as to call his team complacent, but the Islanders coach sure wasn’t far off. What he issued was a clear-eyed, candid assessment of his squad, which has just been able to stave off collapse over the past two-plus weeks.

“To me, when you’re really sharp, it’s not necessarily your legs, it’s [mental],” Trotz said after his team blew a pair of two-goal leads before winning a 5-4 game in a shootout against the last-overall Senators at the Coliseum on Tuesday night.

Following a travel day on Wednesday, the Isles are set to finish up this home-and-home Thursday night — their sixth game in 10 nights, having gone 3-4-1 over their past eight.

“A couple guys, it’s just a grind,” Trotz said. “But they have to be a little more focused, [show] a little more commitment. It’s all those things, just being a pro.”

The sense of commitment has been the Islanders’ biggest strength during this surprising season of success. They are one of the best recent examples of how the sum is greater than the parts.

They don’t have enough of the raw, top-end talent to win games when they don’t play well. When mistakes were made in the past, they were cleaned up by great team defense or great goaltending. The fact netminder Robin Lehner didn’t make the trip after taking a shot to the head when he was run over by Brady Tkachuk on Tuesday, and Thomas Greiss might have to carry the load by himself for at least a little while, is hardly ideal going forward.

But, what Trotz said after the club’s inaction at the Feb. 25 trade deadline is worth repeating: “The strength of our group is the group.” Now the members of that group need to show their signature gumption and pull themselves out of this rut.

“We’re just off a little bit,” Trotz said. “I’d like to say it’s everybody, but there are certain individual players that I have to get to right now. It’s been a little bit problematic lately, because one game it’s these three guys, next game it’s these five guys, whatever. You go through that.

“You just have to make sure our focus and our detail [are there]. We’ll see if we’re healthier and we’ll see about our lineup.”

So that’s part of it, too. There has been a stomach bug going around the locker room, which a couple guys have played through. And there is the emotional impact of this past Thursday, when former captain John Tavares returned to the Coliseum wearing the Maple Leafs sweater for one of the more memorable nights in recent franchise history.

But what remains in front of the Islanders is a fate that is in their own hands. They can go back to playing the way they were for most of the first five months of the season and continue to battle the Capitals — or whomever else — for first place in the Metropolitan Division. They can continue dragging along in this malaise and slink into the postseason, which would surely then be a short-lived run. Or they could fold up the tent all together and suffer a cataclysmic collapse to miss the playoffs — they are just four points clear of Montreal in the second wild-card spot and six points clear of the Blue Jackets, the first team out.

“Things haven’t been coming easy,” captain Anders Lee said, “and we’ve been a little tight of late.”

That was reiterated by Trotz when he brought up the strange scenario of the back-to-back opponent — Ottawa just fired coach Guy Boucher, traded away its top three scorers and is a franchise immersed in general chaos from the top down.

“They’re playing free, and there is a little more anxiety for us to win games right now,” Trotz said. “That is a different feel, when you’re expected to do something.”

There were very low expectations for these Islanders when the season started, but that has changed. Now, leaving after their five-game homestand, it’s time to see how they react under a different kind of pressure.

“It’ll probably do us some good to go on the road,” Trotz said. “I love [the Coliseum], but it’s probably time for us to regroup, and sometimes you regroup on the road.”

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