The Islanders opened a second straight seven-game homestand on Friday night, meaning they’ll play 14 of 15 games at UBS Arena. This after starting the season with a 13-game road trip.
Extended stretches like that are not normal, either at home or on the road. As the Islanders and the NHL have learned, however, the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made this far from a normal season even as the league hopes to play a full 82-game schedule for the first time since 2018-19.
So yes, some adjustments have had to be made as the players acclimate to new rhythms instead of the typical two or three games at home and the same on the road. As coach Barry Trotz often has said, a team can get stale if it stays in the same routine for too long.
"We’ve had a number of different little mini-training camps, a little bit different philosophy," Trotz said before the Islanders hosted the Coyotes on Friday, the front end of a back-to-back that will continue against the Maple Leafs at UBS Arena on Saturday night.
"I think we look at practices a little bit different than we did. We’re at home, we can’t go on a big team-builder on a day off. There’s not those type of opportunities.
"I think it’s just trying to keep it fresh in a different way. Maybe saying a lot of the same things but maybe with a different angle to it. It’s still a boys’ game, so you’ve still got to make it fun.
"I think we’ve got a pretty good sense of humor in the locker room, for the most part. When it feels stale, just like anything else, your mind goes numb a little bit. We’re going to have to find some ways to be creative, that’s all."
At least now, though, the Islanders are playing games on a consistent basis. It was hard for them to find any rhythm through the first three months of the season with several long layoffs, some of them scheduled and some of them the result of postponements related to COVID-19.
The Islanders will play this homestand in a rapid-fire 12 days heading into the All-Star break. Then they will play their final 43 games in a condensed 80 days, starting on Feb. 9. That includes nine of 11 on the road through March 1 and eight of nine on the road to start April as they play 10 of their final 16 games away from UBS Arena.
"The way the schedules have gone since really this [the pandemic] has all started almost a couple of years ago now, we’re so used to having to adjust and having to take what’s given with regards to the schedule," Anders Lee said. "You’ve just got to take advantage of the time at home. Make sure you hone in on these home games because we know what it’s like on the road as well.
"And once this gets all sorted out, too, we’re going to be right back in the thick of it, every other night. We’ll be back on the road more consistently."
The good thing for the Islanders is they’re finally developing a home-ice advantage. They opened their new $1.1 billion home with an 0-5-2 skid that included a 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs on Nov. 21 in the second game in the building. Lee was one of six Islanders who missed that game while in COVID-19 protocol.
But the Islanders went 5-1-1 on their last homestand and entered Friday 6-1-1 at UBS Arena since Dec. 9.