It is, in quite a bit of an understatement, a much different year.
The fully healthy Islanders faced the Flames on Monday night at UBS Arena, marking the first time the teams have met on Long Island since they christened the new building on Nov. 20, 2021.
That night, the Islanders, just at the tip of a COVID-19 outbreak that would ultimately wreck their playoff chances and playing with a makeshift lineup as they came off a season-opening 13-game road trip, lost, 5-2.
The franchise had waited literally decades for a building to replace venerable Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders practiced at UBS Arena for the first time on Nov. 18, followed by an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony the next day before actually playing a game in the building.
“I remember us being shorthanded,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “Mostly I remember the practice the day before, it was my birthday. I remember going there practicing and having everything feel very, very new and fresh. Honestly, the game was a lot of blur.
“I remember just being thankful the first one was out of the way. Years of buildup, if you include the years we spent on Atlantic Avenue [Barclays Center in Brooklyn].”
Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Ross Johnston, Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech and Andy Greene all missed the game because they were in COVID-19 protocol, the latter three being added to the list that day. Ryan Pulock was also out with a leg injury, leaving Noah Dobson, Scott Mayfield and Zdeno Chara as the only regular defensemen in the lineup.
AHL call-ups Robin Salo and Grant Hutton on defense and Andy Andreoff and Richard Panik up front filled out the lineup.
“It was cool playing the first game at the new rink, there was a lot of excitement and it was a long time coming,” Dobson said. “Also, I just remember it being hectic with guys testing right before the game and waiting for the results, not knowing who was going to be playing. I felt bad, especially some of the guys that missed that first game in the new rink that had been here a long time.”
Bailey had been the first to test positive for COVID-19 and he remained in Florida quarantining.
“It was different, for sure,” Matt Martin said. “The start of it was Florida, where Bails popped up with COVID. Then the trickle-down effect really started. It was not ideal. It was a crazy time. Coming off the road trip, we were under .500 but still kind of survived the trip. But we knew we needed some wins to climb back into it.
“It was tough news, to start dropping guys left and right like that. The weirdest part was I went to dinner with one of the guys that popped up for COVID two days before. In your mind, you’re waiting to test positive for COVID.”
Martin remained negative then, but tested positive later in the season, though he was asymptomatic.
Brock Nelson scored both of the Islanders’ goals against the Flames in the UBS Arena debut.
“It was interesting game day for sure,” Nelson said. “We didn’t have a lot of regular guys that deserved to be there for such a big night. I hadn’t even seen the full facility yet. I was sick the first day we were able to get in there. So I remember being a little bit lost with the weight room, the setup, the training room. You could spend a lot of time walking around.
“It was a tough game but it was an exciting day for the future of the team.”