To say the Islanders’ season has been weird is an understatement. It’s been even odder for Brock Nelson.
The second-line center has played only four games since Nov. 21 but has had to be out of the lineup only nine times in that span, missing seven games with a lower-body injury and the last two while in COVID-19 protocol. He’s still tied for the team lead in goals.
Nelson hopes his latest return, when the Islanders are scheduled to end a stretch of three games in 25 days by facing the Devils on Thursday night at UBS Arena, marks the start of his being in the lineup consistently.
"Yeah, it’s been a little weird," Nelson said. "I feel like I really haven’t played much hockey. It’ll be four games in a few months span, which is kind of crazy. On the positive side of that, it was at a time coming off an injury. It gave me a little bit more time to heal, so I feel good. The COVID one is a tough one, but lucky I caught it at a time that the science changed again. I stayed home for five days, felt fine and got back in.
"I’m excited to play another game in a few days here."
The Devils, impacted by COVID-19 issues, had their home game against the Lightning on Monday night postponed.
Nelson rejoined his teammates this past Monday and has participated in the last five practices. The Islanders (10-12-6) were off on Sunday. They are last in the eight-team Metropolitan Division and 12 points out of a wild-card spot but have played at least three fewer games than any other Eastern Conference playoff contender.
With Nelson returning, the Islanders expect to be nearly at full strength against the Devils aside from defenseman Ryan Pulock (long-term injured reserve/ lower body).
Nelson has 10 goals and three assists in 19 games, notching his first goal since returning from his lower-body injury in his last game, a 4-3 shootout loss to visiting Vegas on Dec. 19.
"The injury was tough," he said. "Coming back from that, the first game was Jersey [a 4-2 win over the Devils on Dec. 11], I thought I felt pretty good just given the time off. I had a couple two- or three-day breaks between games, which is kind of nice. Then, my last game, I thought I felt pretty good. I had a couple of chances. And then I haven’t played since."
The Islanders had their next four games postponed after facing Vegas. Nelson was absent because of COVID-19 for home victories over the Sabres and Oilers on Dec. 30 and Jan. 1 before the Islanders’ road trip to Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary was postponed with attendance limited in Canadian cities.
"I’m just trying to take advantage of practices," Nelson said. "Some rest for the injury. Watching some film. Trying to recreate that as best you can in a game is always going to be a little bit different, a little bit faster. But get as close as you can to that feel."