Isles aim to win and evaluate the rest of the season
RALEIGH, N.C. – This odd season started on the road against the Hurricanes and coach Barry Trotz chuckled when asked what his reaction would have been that night had he been warned the path on which the Islanders were embarking.
“I had no idea,” Trotz said. “You knew it was going to be different. But you didn’t know all the landmines on the way. But, at the same time, we didn’t handle it as well as maybe we could have.”
The Islanders face the Hurricanes again on Friday night at PNC Arena. The Metropolitan Division leaders are one of the first three teams in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth, while the Islanders are headed to their first playoff miss since 2018.
The Islanders’ season, beset by both lengthy road trips and homestands, COVID-19 outbreaks and the resulting schedule juggling, opened with a 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes on Oct. 14. That was the start of a 13-game road trip as the team waited for construction on UBS Arena to be completed.
Ilya Sorokin, who on Friday made his first start since suffering a head injury on March 27 that left him unavailable for the next four games, stopped 35 shots in the season opener.
In all, Trotz said the Islanders are a better team now at the end of the season than the one that opened against the Hurricanes. But their turnaround – the Islanders entered Friday with an 11-4-1 record since March 10 despite Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Stars – almost certainly came too late in the season. The Islanders entered Friday 13 points behind the Capitals for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot.
“The last 35 games or so we’ve been competitive pretty well every night,” Trotz said. “There haven’t been too many nights where we go, ‘Wow, that was embarrassing.’ We’re in a better place.”
Trotz said the rest of the regular season would be used for evaluation as president and general manager Lou Lamoriello formulates his offseason strategy.
For now, though, that’s unlikely to include any callups from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport for auditions with that squad battling for a playoff spot.
“We’re limited in terms of what we can do with the roster but, right now, it’s just hope they get in,” Trotz said. “They’ve got to play well and try to get in. We’re going to play the lineup that we think we can win tonight’s game with, plain, simple. There’s no, ‘Let’s go bring this guy up and see what we’ve got.’ We’ve got the exhibition season. We’ve got all that.
“We’ve got to trust our coaching staff down there and we’ve got to trust our scouts to give us a true evaluation. We’ve seen snippets of guys that have come up so we’ll have to make evaluations at the end of the year on that.”
Notes & quotes: Anthony Beauvillier plays in his 400th NHL game…Goalie Semyon Varlamov is expected to start on Saturday night against the Blues as the Islanders conclude their five-game road trip.