Following Torrey's chat, the Isles beat St. Louis, lost to Minnesota, beat Detroit and lost 7-3 to Buffalo on Jan. 5 in what many observers feel was New York's worst game in 10 years. The Islanders' brain trust decided to sit captain Denis Potvin out against the Red Wings, so lethargic was his play, and the move assumed a double-edged swipe when Trottier, ordinarily the Isles' alternate captain, was bypassed for that role in favor of Bossy, who's off to his finest start ever with 37 goals and 39 assists in his first 41 games. "Is Trots the only one who can show leadership? Bossy's done a few things for this team in seven years, too," says Torrey, bristling at the suggestion that he was cracking the whip at the old war-horses a little early this year. "I wouldn't say waiting until the season's half over is exactly cracking the whip. Sure, all those playoff games the past five years have taken their toll. But these guys have had three months of rest so far this season. They should be just about ready to play."
Apparently they are. Last week the Islanders—no doubt sparked by the waiving of center Butch Goring, 35, the only Islander to have played in all 99 of the team's playoff games the past five seasons, to Boston—put on the sort of measured, disciplined performance that has been their trademark every spring.
"This team's success has always started with its defense," said Tonelli on Saturday after the Isles beat the Flyers 5-3, the fourth straight win for rookie goalie Kelly Hrudey. "It's a good sign to start winning some close-checking, physical games."
Another good sign was the rejuvenation of Trottier, who, reunited with Bossy and Tonelli, was on the ice for 12 of the 17 goals the Islanders tallied during the week, scoring six himself, assisting on four others and twice being named the game's first star. The spurt increased his totals for the year to 16 goals and 15 assists in 30 games—still far, far below his career average of 107 points a year. The suspicion lingers that Trottier has simply given too much for too long and has grown old before his time. He's certainly not the offensive player he once was. But there's not a better defensive center in the game, and the Islanders can't win without him.
With him, who knows? Asked what he learned about his team last week, Torrey, looking relieved, said: "There's a few more miles left in it."