In addition to the New York Islanders’ choppy schedule to start the season, the Islanders are now up to five postponed games through Dec. 29. If the Islanders are finally able to hit the ice against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, they will have had 11 days between games and played just three games in 18 days.
“We haven’t had any rhythm,” head coach Barry Trotz said on Monday. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing for us this year.” With the short-term NHL schedule in major fluctuation, with more postponements being announced every day, the Islanders will have to continue to battle against the schedule and a roster decimated once again by COVID-19.
Islanders’ Schedule, Roster in Flux
When Islanders returned to their practice facility on Sunday after an extended holiday break, fans learned four more players were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. This time, Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise, and Oliver Wahlstrom were subject to quarantine. On Tuesday, there was more bad news, as second-line center Brock Nelson joined the aforementioned group on the protocol list, bringing the total to five in addition to Kyle Palmieri and Ryan Pulock, who remains out due to injury.
On top of the Islanders roster problems, issues are bubbling in Bridgeport. With the Islanders adding players to the reinstated taxi squad, Bridgeport is in a tough position. Simon Holmstrom, Cole Bardreau, and Grant Hutton were added to the taxi squad on Sunday and were joined by Austin Czarnik and Michael Dal Colle the following day. That meant Bridgeport general manager Chris Lamoriello needed to sign players to pro tryouts (PTOs), according to Michael Fornabaio. He mentioned team transactions showed Bridgeport signed Worcester Railers (ECHL) forwards Liam Coughlin and Ross Olsson to pro tryouts, the team’s “first in-season PTOs since Tim Wallace on March 23, 2017.” Hutton was returned to Bridgeport late on Tuesday.
The unfortunate reality of roster moves and scheduling changes seems to be here to stay, and if the Islanders want to claw their way back into the playoff picture, they’ll need to roll with the punches. It’ll be tough to do with many of the team’s top players out on a fairly regular basis, but at this point, every team across the league has been dealt the same hand. It’s up to the Islanders to pull together to chase the postseason.
Islanders’ Lineup Questions
Trotz has his work cut out for him when the Islanders make their way back to game action. It looked like the Islanders would finally get all four centers back into the lineup, but that only last one day with Nelson on the protocol list. Czarnik has played well, collecting a goal and two assists in six games so far, but he’s more of a Casey Cizikas type than a Nelson, leaving Trotz down an offensive center. J.G. Pageau, who has some sneaky offensive flare at times, will likely move up to the second line flanked by Kieffer Bellows.
Outside of that, and of course, the fourth line of Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, who is expected to return this week, the lines are up in the air. Many expect Dal Colle to make his season debut and could be on a line with Bellows and Pageau, leaving Czarnik, Ross Johnston, and Bardreau as a line, not an easy line to play against as all three have more than a little physicality to their game. Holmstrom could also make his way onto that third line, adding some offensive upside.
On the backend, not much has changed. Sebastian Aho, who, along with Bellows, was mentioned by Trotz as a player who can take advantage of the team’s current roster situation, could find himself in the lineup for youngster Robin Salo at times. Salo has played well so far and it’s difficult to tell who Trotz will favor moving forward. Adam Pelech-Scott Mayfield, Zdeno Chara-Aho/Robin Salo, and Andy Greene-Noah Dobson are the likely pairs, especially with Hutton’s return to Bridgeport. With no trades in sight, this looks to be the Islanders’ defense until Pulock returns.
Trotz on Barzal returning to practice on Sunday: “He sort of looks like Barzy. When you’re off for that length of time, you’re going to hit a wall. He was fine but I thought he hit a wall yesterday in practice.”
Barzal on COVID-19 quarantine: “I stayed in Detroit for a little while and when I was able to come back, I did. Being back on the ice the last two days with the team, my whole emotion and energy was [sic] sparked. It was tough being 10 days by yourself, isolated.”
Anders Lee on seeing teammates sidelined by COVID: “You just have to be open and adaptable.”
Trotz on how the Islanders move forward: “The only thing we can control is our attitude and our work ethic. Other than that, it’s gonna be what it is… control your attitude, control your work ethic, and I think our guys have done a really good job of that.”
The roster issues are now affecting nearly every team in the NHL, and as difficult as it is to watch the Islanders struggle to put a competitive team on the ice, the field (ice) is now level. Every team’s schedule is in flux and every roster is dealing with issues. It’s up to the team to pull together and look at the schedule one game at a time.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.