The players were ready and the ice was prepped for Islanders practice Wednesday morning. Until, that is, Barry Trotz told everyone to head on home.
In a last-minute decision, Trotz — who spent the morning with his team looking at video and stressing mental focus in what should be an emotional game against the Maple Leafs on Thursday — called off a scheduled noon practice, leading to a slow trickle of Islanders leaving the Northwell Health Ice Center around the same time they would be warming up.
“I don’t think we need the exercise, we need a little bit of the mental focus,” Trotz said. “That’s what we put our efforts in this whole morning and hopefully, that will sharpen us up in some areas, because some of the stuff — we’re not as sharp as we can be. It’s not physical, it’s mental. Sometimes, a little bit of a change in routine can help."
This was all fairly uncommon — it’s the first time Trotz has done it with this team — but then again, this stretch of games is anything but normal.
Thursday marks the return of John Tavares to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — his first time back since choosing the Maple Leafs over the Islanders — and everything points to a frenzied, raucous crowd, courtesy of fans still feeling the sting of abandonment (Trotz said he hopes the fans focus more on cheering the team over booing Tavares).
Add to that that, a stretch of three games in four days, along with the fact that they lost sole ownership of first place Tuesday, and now have a share with the Capitals. They play eight of nine games at the Coliseum, a number against divisional opponents, and that very well could be key in the fight for their first playoff appearance since the 2015-2016 season.
Tuesday, they lost 3-1 to the Flames, playing what Tortz called an incomplete game. So, Tavares or not, those two points Thursday are big ones.
“We just need to plain and simple win a hockey game against a good team on probably a very emotional night,” he said. “Let’s make sure we have our focus on getting two points. We’re in a playoff race now, just trying to get in, so we need to somehow, some way, get two points.”
That's what motivated him to scrap the original plan: analyzing film and then holding a short practice.
“Tomorrow obviously is a big deal,” Tortz said. “John was the face of the franchise and he gave his all … [But that's] not going to change the focus. The focus is on us right now…We’ve got to make sure our motivating factor is we need those two points.”