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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

After break, there's little rest for Islanders

Islanders lineman Anthony Beauvillier shoots against Blackhawks defenseman

Islanders lineman Anthony Beauvillier shoots against Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek and goaltender Cam Ward on Tuesday in Chicago. Credit: AP/Matt Marton

The Islanders handled the dog-days portion of their schedule with aplomb, rising to the top of the Metropolitan Division through December and January.

“It certainly can be tough,” left wing Matt Martin said. “But everyone is going through the same things. I just try to take it game by game. I don’t really think about the amount of games. There’s always that part of the season where it is a mental grind. I think every player will say they go through that at some point. It seems to be that December, January time frame.”

The same game-by-game focus must be applied to their playoff push over the season’s final nine weeks.

The NHL’s dog days in the marathon 82-game season comes after the excitement of the start of the season wears off and before the intensity of the playoff stretch.

The Islanders will enter February off the extended rest of a combined All-Star break and bye week, not reconvening for practice until Thursday and with 10 days between games. The Islanders, who face the NHL-leading Lightning on Friday at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, completed a 15-3-1 run with Tuesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago. Overall, they went 17-6-2 in December and January.

“You never really look back ever,” right wing Leo Komarov said. “You just have to be good every day. Some days, you’re going to have a bad day. You’ve just got to hope you don’t have too many of them.”

Once the season does resume, the Islanders will have little time to reflect on any bad games as they play their final 33 games over a 65-day stretch, essentially a game every other day.

Only once do the Islanders have three days between games.

The practical result is there will be little time for practices as Barry Trotz expects to prioritize rest and recovery over on-ice, off-day work. He estimated the number of practices the rest of the season could be counted on two hands. That does not include game-day morning skates but many of those tend to be optional.

“Personally, I like it,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said of the reduced practice schedule. “Everyone is different. For me, I just want to play games.

“As long as mentally, you’re ready, once you’re halfway through a season, we’ve had enough where we don’t need to practice the structure as much,” Mayfield added. “We have our plan and we know what [the coaching staff] wants from us now. It’s just mentally executing and getting your body ready.”

No return dates

Defenseman Thomas Hickey (upper body) and left wing Andrew Ladd (lower body) remain on injured reserve without a timetable for returning from their lengthy absences.

Which means Trotz does not have to worry yet about how he can fit them back in the lineup — if that’s what he wants to do.

“That’s a good question,” Trotz said when asked when either might return. “I know Hicks is getting a little closer all the time. If he gets back and if he gets the OK to skate with us, he’s going to be a few practices away. But we don’t have a lot of practices.”

Trotz estimated at one point in Hickey’s recovery process he would need four to five practices before being able to play. That could delay Hickey’s return until late February.

Hickey has missed 17 games since Dec. 18 and, in his absence, rookie Devon Toews has shown he can not only play in the NHL but add a unique, offensive element to the Islanders’ attack and power play. Fellow lefthanded shot Adam Pelech would be the other candidate to come out in favor of Hickey but his somewhat erratic play improved noticeably during the previous two or three weeks.

Ladd has missed 31 games since Nov. 15 and Trotz indicated the earliest he might be ready is the end of February. Ladd had been playing on the third line with Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov. For now, rookie Michael Dal Colle has been playing well in that spot.

Defense, man

Last season, Nick Leddy seemed a defenseman in name only as he produced 10 goals and 32 assists but struggled away from the puck with an NHL-worst minus-42. But Trotz and his staff have gotten the 27-year-old Leddy to concentrate on his defensive efforts. Which is why this can be considered a turnaround season for Leddy, a plus-three despite his having just one goal to go with 17 assists.

Look no further than Tuesday’s overtime as he chased down the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane to thwart his breakaway without drawing a penalty.

“Last year didn’t go the way he probably would have liked,” Trotz said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence with his defending skills, those areas around the net, positionally, what he does in terms of controlling people with his stick, stick on puck technique. All those things. He’s been very effective.”

NHL honors

The Professional Hockey Writers Association announced its midseason awards and Trotz finished first in balloting for the Jack Adams (top coach), goalie Robin Lehner was first for comeback player of the year and Lou Lamoriello was third in general manager of the year voting: Here’s a look back at the top Islanders’ regular-season trophy winners:

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Bryan Trottier – 1979

Norris Trophy (top defenseman)

Denis Potvin – 1976, 1978, 1979

Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)

Michael Peca – 2002

Calder Trophy (top rookie)

Denis Potvin – 1974; Bryan Trottier – 1976; Mike Bossy – 1978; Bryan Berard – 1997; Mathew Barzal – 2018

Art Ross Trophy (top scorer)

Bryan Trottier – 1979

Vezina Trophy (top goalie)

Billy Smith – 1982

Bill Masterton Trophy (perseverance, dedication to ice hockey)

Ed Westfall – 1977; Mark Fitzpatrick – 1992

Jack Adams Trophy (top coach)

Al Arbour – 1979

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