The Islanders expect to play hockey games this week.
Three games in 25 days, the stretch that is scheduled to end with the Islanders facing the Devils on Thursday night at UBS Arena, can certainly dull a team. They have not played since a 3-2 overtime win over the visiting Oilers on Jan. 1.
And when the Islanders do start playing again, they face a decidedly uphill climb to get back into playoff contention. At the start of play on Saturday, the Islanders were last in the eight-team Metropolitan Division and 10 points out of a wild-card spot. They have played the fewest games in the NHL after a barrage of postponements since Nov. 28.
"Just focus on the game, I know it’s a little bit cliché," said coach Barry Trotz, who returned to the team on Saturday after a week-long absence as his mother passed away. "Just start climbing."
Trotz recalled a similar obstacle during his tenure coaching Portland in the AHL, albeit one caused by winter weather and not a COVID-19 pandemic.
"I don’t know if you know it, it snows up in Maine pretty good," said Trotz, who coached Portland from 1993-97 and twice took the team to the AHL final. "We had a couple of games cancelled. We played five games in seven nights. We looked like where we were in the standings like we do right now. We had a really good week. Seven days later, you look up and you’re right in the total mix of everything. We went on that year to go to the finals."
The Islanders have 54 games remaining with the NHL regular season running through April 29.
But all the Islanders have had to focus on lately is practice. With Trotz away, it was up to associate coach Lane Lambert and the rest of the staff to keep the players engaged.
"It’s a longer break so you’re aware of it," Lambert said. "What we have to do, as a coaching staff, is keep it fresh. Make practices game-like. They love to compete. If you put that type of practice together and change it up a little bit every day, it keeps it fresh for them."
The coaches must also be flexible enough to alter the day’s plan if things go stale.
"There might have been a drill where you say, ‘Ah, maybe not this drill today,’" Lambert said. "It’s a little bit of a gauge as practice is going on. It doesn’t happen very often. We spend a lot of time planning and hoping to avoid that."
Another milestone for Chara
Future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara is two games shy of tying Hall of Famer Scott Stevens for the second-most NHL games played among defenseman with 1,635, which he can reach this coming Saturday afternoon against his previous team, the Capitals, at UBS Arena. Chara could also pass Hall of Famer Chris Chelios (1,651) later this season to top the list.
"I’m just try to focus and be ready to play every game," Chara said. "I’m aware of the stats a little bit. But my attention is to play the games, to play the best to my abilities and help the team. It’s a huge honor to be part of that group and a huge honor for me to be part of the NHL"
Cal Clutterbuck, who can be, simultaneously, one of the more thoughtful and intense Islanders during interviews, had this to say when asked whether he was surprised the NHL didn’t reschedule any of the Islanders’ postponed games during this long layoff.
"If I was worried about rescheduling games for the league, I wouldn’t have any time to spend with my wife and kids," Clutterbuck said. "I’m just here to do my job. I’m here to try and get myself prepared and ready to play the games when they are scheduled. When somebody tells me there’s a game to be played, I’ll show up that day and be ready to play."
Here’s the current list of changes to the Islanders’ schedule, with makeup dates if available:
Nov. 28: vs. Rangers at Madison Square Garden – Now March 17, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30: vs. Flyers at Philadelphia – Now Jan. 18, 7 p.m.
Dec. 20: vs. Canadiens at UBS Arena – TBA
Dec. 23: vs. Capitals at UBS Arena – TBA
Dec. 27: vs. Sabres at Buffalo – TBA
Dec. 29: vs. Red Wings at UBS Arena – TBA
Jan. 4: vs. Kraken at Seattle – TBA
Jan. 5: vs. Canucks at Vancouver – TBA
Jan. 8: vs. Oilers at Edmonton – TBA
Jan. 11: vs. Flames at Calgary – TBA
Jan. 18: vs. Blue Jackets at UBS Arena – TBA
Jan. 22: vs. Maple Leafs at Toronto – Now April 17, 7 p.m.
April 17: vs. Maple Leafs at UBS Arena – Now Jan. 22, 7 p.m.