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SportsColumnistsAndrew Gross

Hockey players are tough, but do they know what's best for their health?

The Islanders' Brock Nelson returns to the bench

The Islanders' Brock Nelson returns to the bench after scoring against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

Hockey players are tough, that’s a given. There are too many documented examples of playing through injuries or pain to recount.

The point is, almost all players will want to keep playing if possible. They are not the most objective judges of their own health at times.

This comes to mind this week through the experiences of two Islanders. Quickly jumping to the end of the story: Both were OK and did not apparently endanger themselves further. Nor did they stay in the game without consulting with the Islanders' medical staff.

Still, some hockey media questioned whether there was enough of a proactive response by league officials on site to protect the players.

Center Brock Nelson was struck on the top of the helmet by defenseman Ryan Pulock’s rising slap shot on Tuesday night at Pittsburgh, briefly going flat on his belly on the ice before skating to the bench and waiting for his helmet to be repaired before returning to the game. He wound up scoring the winner in overtime.

Two days later, left wing Matt Martin returned to the Islanders’ lineup against the Penguins after missing nine games. His left knee slammed into an open door on the Senators’ bench on Oct. 25 at Ottawa, sending him to the dressing room. He returned to finish that game before going on injured reserve.

Martin said returning to that game did not worsen his injury.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Martin said. “It was kind of an interesting situation. If you have 11 forwards, you probably call it a night. The hardest thing for athletes is to take us out of the game. Generally, I would probably remove myself from the situation. But two seconds after I go in the room, I see Cal [Clutterbuck] coming into the room and we’re down to eight forwards. I just wanted to be available as much as possible. It didn’t make it worse. For me, it was a little bit uncomfortable but I was able to get through the game.”

Martin learned the next day he was more injured than he suspected.

“I was somewhat surprised by the news the next day,” Martin said. “I felt pretty good the next morning.”

Nelson never left the bench on Tuesday for concussion protocol after being struck by Pulock’s rocket on the scary sequence. And the NHL spotters assigned to the game, who have the authority to put players into protocol if they suspect behavior that suggests a head injury, did not flag him for observation.

“They told me I had to go off [the ice] because they blew the play down and I’d gone down,” said Nelson of the officiating crew. “Talking to [the training staff], I wasn’t feeling any symptoms so it was kind of a discretionary thing, from what he said. I didn’t think it was necessary to go in. I was feeling all right. It just feeling like you bumped your head.”

Nelson obviously remained clear of symptoms the next day, too.

“I didn’t feel anything,” said Nelson, who also scored the overtime winner in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Penguins at Barclays Center. “If anything would have come up, we would have done something.”

Unintended benefit

Coach Barry Trotz has frequently opined that he believes teams can get stale if they play too many home games or road games in one stretch.

The Islanders played 13 of their first 20 at home, including 12 of their first 17. Yet, the Islanders clearly didn’t get stale with a 10-2-1 home record. They are 7-2-0 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and 3-0-1 at Barclays Center.

“It’s probably helpful we have two arenas at this point, which we haven’t said too often,” Trotz said. “But when you have a lot of home games, it gives a little change of venue and you can’t get stale and it’s a little different. It’s worked out for us.”

Picked from the pod

Left wing Anthony Beauvillier was a guest on Episode 8 of Island Ice, Newsday’s Islanders’ podcast, discussing his strong development into a two-way player since Barry Trotz became coach and why the team’s system suits him so well.

He also recalled his single-minded desire to be a professional player while playing youth hockey as he grew up about an hour from Montreal in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.

“I’ve always been really good with guys my age,” Beauvillier said. “Everyone would just kind of talk about having a Plan B growing up. In my mind, I kind of did. I was doing the right things to have a Plan B. But, in the back of my mind, I kind of knew my Plan A was going to work.”

Beauvillier also discussed the benefits of having another French-Canadian on the team as Derick Brassard is from Hull, Quebec.

“The same culture, it’s always easier to communicate,” Beauvillier said. “We don’t really have any French-Canadians besides [goalie] J.F. Berube [who played 21 games with the Islanders from 2015-17]. It’s just fun to talk French.”

On point

The Islanders broke the franchise record for points in consecutive games when they pushed their streak to 15-0-1 on Thursday. That also gave them an NHL-leading .825 point percentage (points divided by maximum possible points) with a 16-3-1 record. Here are the Islanders’ best point percentages through 20 games in team history:

2019-20 - .825 (16-3-1, 33 points)

1978-79 - .775 (14-3-3, 31 points)

1976-77 - .775 (14-3-3, 31 points)

1987-88 - .725 (14-5-1, 29 points)

2014-15 - .700 (14-6-0, 28 points)

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