It certainly seems the Islanders’ combined All-Star break/bye week vacation couldn’t come at a better time for an admittedly exhausted team.
And perhaps for coach Barry Trotz to spend a few days away from Mathew Barzal after getting frustrated enough with his All-Star prioritizing individual play over the team framework to bench him in the third period of Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
A source said a furious Trotz ripped into his team immediately after the game. The Islanders held a four-goal lead in the third period but the Rangers scored twice on a four-minute power play after defenseman Scott Mayfield's spearing penalty.
Barzal will head to St. Louis for the All-Star Game festivities on Friday and Saturday for his second straight All-Star appearance. The rest of his teammates get their full vacation.
“I think we’re all in need of the break,” Josh Bailey said. “It’s been a grueling schedule for the last little while, for all teams. It comes at a good time. It’s a good opportunity to rest, recharge the batteries. Mentally, too, get that little break and enjoy some time with the family and loved ones and come back rejuvenated.”
The Islanders do not play again until facing the Canucks on Feb. 1 at Barclays Center. The win over the Rangers completed a stretch of seven games in 11 days and 14 games in 26 days since the three-day holiday break in December.
Trotz, unusually tense during his post-game comments to the media on Tuesday, described his team as “exhausted” and “mentally and physically fatigued” after beating the Rangers.
“We’ve got a break here,” captain Anders Lee said. “Rest up and get ready for the second half. It’s going to be exciting. It’s a grind. We’re looking forward to it for sure.”
The Islanders went 2-3-2 over the 11-day stretch and were 6-6-2 since the holiday break. They are four points behind the second-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division and are trying to hold off the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Flyers for third place. The first-place Capitals have an eight-point lead on the Islanders.
“The standings are really tight,” Anthony Beauvillier said. “It’s going to be an exciting finish to the season. A tough one, for sure.”
The Islanders go into this break with the same 29-15-5 record they had at this point last season, when they finished second in the division at 48-27-7.
The continued absences of defenseman Adam Pelech (Achilles’ tendon) and fourth-line right wing Cal Clutterbuck (left wrist) are obstacles to overcome. So is the Islanders’ continued offensive inconsistency. They have scored four goals in two of their last three games but were held to two or fewer goals in seven of their 11 games in January.
Barzal, before his benching, acknowledged the Islanders are not a “juggernaut offensively.”
The Islanders’ 143 goals are 22nd in the NHL, though their goal differential of plus-11 is 11th.
The trade deadline is Feb. 24.
Notes & Quotes: Defenseman Sebastian Aho was re-assigned to the Islanders' AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. He will participate in the AHL All-Star Game.