Locker room chemistry. It's this mystical element in sports that no one can pinpoint. In retrospect, it's obvious, as cases in Islanders lore abound. The 1993 team that made an unexpected run to the Prince of Wales Finals had it. The dynasty teams had so much they could sent some extra mojo around the league and still gone on their run. But how easy is it to spot in the midst of a season? And does this Islanders team have that elusive 'it'?
One this is for certain. They're spending a lot of time talking about it.
"We've got a lot of good leaders in here, so there's calm, there's no panic," Ryan Strome told reporters after the Islanders 3-2 shootout win in Columbus. "We know how tight it is in the standings. We've been playing a lot of good hockey lately and we couldn't let this one slip away."
That may seem like a simple case of Strome speaking about a come-from-behind win on the road. But on Sunday, when Brian Strait took on the Oilers' Zack Kassian, who originally had tried to take on Thomas Hickey, Matt Martin showered Strait with praise, citing his contributions to locker room.
"Straiter's a hell of a guy in this room and he stepped up for Hicks there," Martin said. "That shows you something."
Even when Johnny Boychuk returned to the lineup, it wasn't solely his blue line presence Jack Capuano was eager to have back. He specifically called out Boychuk's leadership to bolster the room.
"For me, it's more of his leadership and what he can bring to the room," Capuano said. "He's been there before, started in the minors, worked his way up, he's won a Stanley Cup, he knows the grind that it takes. And he knows the accountability factor. Hey, it doesn't matter if you hurt somebody's feelings. And you need a guy like that."
These quotes are all in the last five days. It's almost as if the Isles are screaming upwards to Garth Snow, imploring him not to shake up this roster. Trying to convince him that the faith he showed in this young core this offseason will be rewarded.
As fans, we're hard on players for what they bring on the ice, because that's all we see. We form notions about a guy with our eyes or our analytics, often eager to discard someone into the worthless pile. Strait is a good example of that. We're hard on him and, at times, that's justified. But does he bring more? Martin's comments give me pause. This is a game played by human beings after all. How many times have we heard about Eric Boulton's role as the man in charge of boosting morale? Just like working in an office, a better environment certainly leads to happier players. Are contributions from guys like Strait and Boulton worth just as much a timely carry-in or shot on net? And does a room ever become too comfortable, with the grind of an NHL season likened to an extended stay at hockey camp?
Answering these questions have to be one of the most difficult elements of a general manager's job. For the Islanders rebuild is over, and was overall a success. But during the course of what's been an extremely uneven season, the most vexing question is how do they take the next step? Is it just by letting their young players grow? Or is it with a move for that one, perfect piece that brings it all together? It seems like the Islanders know what they want, and only time will tell if they're justified in asking for it or not. It just all may come down to what Garth's gut is telling him.