Islanders Weekly: Questions Remain Despite Good News

November may be one of the longest months the New York Islanders and their fans endured in quite some time. Despite the opening of UBS Arena, the Islanders hit one wall after another to start the season. In addition to the long road trip and weak play, COVID-19 ran rampant through the team, injuries piled up, and the losses seemed relentless.

Related: Islanders Bright Spots In a Pretty Grim November

However, we received some good news today with the team returning to the ice for practice and some big names rejoining the Islanders ahead of their return to game action on Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks at home.

Islanders Hit the Ice

A collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout Isles country on Wednesday as reports and photos flooded social media as the team returned to the ice. Notably, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Adam Pelech, Ross Johnston, and Andy Greene were present, a good sign as the Islanders try to get their team back to full strength. This should give the team a boost and, hopefully, give players like Oliver Wahlstrom, whose goal-scoring dried up along with the rest of the team, a much-needed revival.

Despite all the good news, it will be interesting what the Islanders look like when they hit the ice on Thursday. Brock Nelson (sprained knee) and Ryan Pulock (broken foot) are still out for a few more weeks at a minimum, and Otto Koivula may also be out as an option up the middle; he didn’t practice Wednesday and was not on the COVID protocol lists over the last week. In addition, Kieffer Bellows, Zdeno Chara, and Casey Cizikas are still in COVID protocol, meaning Andy Andreoff may wind up with Cizikas’ spot on the fourth line against the Sharks.

For some of the younger players who’ve made an impact so far, like rookie Robin Salo and veteran Richard Panik, this could be an opportunity to play with a closer to normal lineup and show what they’re capable of at the NHL level. With the announcement that the Islanders were cleared for their game against the Sharks today, we’ll know pretty quickly who’s in and who’s out.

Bridgeport Islanders Updates

The Bridgeport Islanders, on the other hand, didn’t have such great news on Wednesday, a tough blow to an ongoing issue throughout the organization. It was reported that three players were currently in COVID protocol, with no details on who those players were or if they were with New York. The latter is unlikely, though there were no announcements of players being sent down over the last few days. Bridgeport doesn’t play until Saturday, but that does little for those who need to be off the ice for much longer than that as they wait for negative test results.

Speaking of their game on Saturday, Bridgeport’s matchup, originally against the Providence Bruins, who are having their own COVID outbreak, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 15. However, Bridgeport will still play this Saturday, but against the Utica Comets per the AHL’s release. The AHL also sent out a letter to teams, similar to the NHL, about COVID protocols moving forward, outlining additional mandates and rules.

Islanders Quotebook

Josh Bailey following practice on Wednesday: “It’s an exciting time for all of us… especially for the guys that haven’t played in the arena yet.”

Anders Lee on the hole the Islanders are in: “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’re looking forward to this challenge. It’ll be tough to get out of, but certainly nothing insurmountable.”

Barry Trotz on who will be returning on Thursday: “They’re all going to have to play…probably 4 of the 5 returnees will play tomorrow.”

Barry Trotz on easing COVID players back: “We have to put them in. Their play [and the situation] will dictate how many minutes we can give them. We don’t know that. It’s not like baseball where it’s this guy can throw 60 pitches…it doesn’t work that way.”

Barry Trotz on the callups: “They’ve all had games where they were very good. There were times when they looked a little unsure. We did find out a lot about a lot of our young guys. You can win with them.”

Islanders Storylines

The Islanders have a tough road to climb moving forward, but it’s not impossible. The team will need to make sure they’re winning games in regulation against Metropolitan Division opponents and, at the very least, squeaking out three-point games against everyone else to keep pace. With 65 games remaining, there’s plenty of runway — for now. If the Islanders can’t shake their unlucky streak and poor defensive play, it’ll be a long rest of the season for fans.

Other questions remain when Chara comes off of COVID protocols. As well as Salo has played, there’s not enough roster space to keep everyone in New York. Sebastian Aho requires waivers, and it’s unlikely the Islanders are willing to let him slip away for nothing.

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