NEW YORK — Almost two months into his first season as coach of the Washington Capitals, Todd Reirden said nothing has really caught him by surprise and everything has gone smoothly.
“And that’s a credit to Barry,” he quickly added.
When Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders face Reirden’s Capitals Monday night at the Barclays Center, it won’t just be a matchup of a defending Stanley Cup champion against the coach who led them there. It will be a protege versus his mentor.
Reirden was considered Trotz’s right-hand man in the latter half of Trotz’s four years coaching the Capitals. The team appointed Reirden “associate coach,” a step up from assistant coach, and the hockey world felt they were grooming him to be a head coach himself someday.
Now, Reirden will coach against Trotz for the first time since Reirden was on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ staff and Trotz was with the Nashville Predators.
“I’m familiar with some of his coaching tendencies and some of those kind of things from the last few years,” Reirden said. “It’ll be something that’ll be a really different type of challenge, any time you’re coaching against someone that you’ve looked up to and worked with.”
Reirden added that “the competitive fire gets going” for games of this nature. But his players said Reirden has kept the focus on getting two points against an Islanders team that has played improved hockey under Trotz.
But Monday’s game does come with one extracurricular activity. Trotz, associate coach Lane Lambert and director of goaltending Mitch Korn will come into the visiting locker room at the Barclays Center before the puck drops, and Washington will give them their Stanley Cup rings.
“Gonna be a great experience to be able to see his face when we give him that Stanley Cup, and Lane and Mitch as well,” Reirden said. “It’s been great as we’ve gone through distributing those rings to those who earned them in different road cities, and obviously tonight’s a very special one.”
Reirden knows he would not be in the position he is today — leading the Capitals (13-7-3) to first place in the Metropolitan Division — without support he got from Trotz over the years.
“(Trotz) involved all of our coaches, in particular myself, in the delegating of responsibility and leaning on us for advice in different areas of the game,” Reirden said. “He often put me in the situation of, ‘What would you do if you were the head coach?’ And that — I can’t thank him enough for doing that, because those were things that I played through in my own mind and it’s gotten me ready for right now.”