The Islanders play their fourth game without Anders Lee on Thursday night. But it is their first since the finality of the captain’s season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament was revealed.
Wednesday’s news as delivered by Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was unwanted but not unexpected given how Lee couldn’t even crawl off the ice after the Devils’ Pavel Zacha fell over his extended right leg on March 11.
"I think it gives you closure and you have to move on and you have to find a way," coach Barry Trotz said. "The news is not great but you’d rather know the reality of what you’re facing than the what-ifs. The what-ifs are the ones that don’t make you fully commit."
The Islanders open a three-game series against the Flyers at Nassau Coliseum with season-ticket holders in the building for the first time this season. The Islanders hosted 1,391 fans, 10% of the arena’s capacity. There were 1,000 Northwell Health frontline workers and their families at the Coliseum when Lee was injured.
The Islanders are coming off Tuesday night’s 3-1 road loss to the Capitals, which ended their nine-game winning streak and 11-0-1 run.
That left them 2-1-0 with rookie Kieffer Bellows taking Lee’s spot on top-line center Mathew Barzal’s left wing and on the first power-play unit.
Lamoriello announced Lee will undergo surgery and the expectation is he will be able to play next season.
"You’ve just got to be ready to play," center Casey Cizikas. "Losing Anders, he’s the life of our team. He leads us. He’s one of the best character guys in our dressing room and guys look up to him. So, losing him definitely hurts but guys have big shoes to fill and we’re going to continue trying to push forward."
"It is next man up," defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "But when you lose your captain and one of your top players, it’s a big hole to fill. It might take more than one guy to fill that hole. Everyone is going to have to step up collectively to do it. He’s a big part of our team on and off the ice so it is a big loss for us. But we’ll find a way to get through that."
Pulock added it was not a surprise to hear Lee was lost for the season after watching him struggle on the ice after getting hurt.
"When you see a guy like that lay on the ice like he did, you know it’s not a good situation," Pulock said. "The results are the results now and we move forward through that and we find a way to fill his void."
Lee will still have a presence with the Islanders while he’s sidelined as he does rehab work at the team’s practice facility.
"You know guys are going to be talking to him and guys are going to be checking in on him and seeing how he’s doing," Cizikas said.
At the same time, Cizikas, no stranger to being injured, said Lee must focus on himself through his recovery.
Cizikas missed the last 13 games with a lacerated left leg before last season was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also missed the last four postseason games after suffering a detached retina.
"You just do whatever you can to heal and take care of yourself," Cizikas said. "Coming off an injury like that, you want to make sure that you’re 100%. You don’t want to be rushing things. You don’t want to be putting yourself in a vulnerable spot when you come back."