VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Fans filled the stands at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night as the Islanders opened a four-game road trip against the Canucks.
But with daily changes seemingly made to the routines as the NHL and other sports leagues struggle to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, the Islanders have been forced to consider what it would be like to play in a building empty except for who the league deems as essential personnel.
“You never think something like that would happen or a situation like this,” captain Anders Lee said of the global coronavirus concerns. “But it’s all for the importance for the health of everyone involved, whether it’s players or employees and everyone that has to come to the rink. From our side, it’s that and doing our best to win games.”
The NHL on Monday barred non-essential personnel, such as the media, from its teams’ dressing rooms — the Islanders instituted that policy for Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Hurricanes at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. So, Lee, selected teammates and coach Barry Trotz spoke after Tuesday’s morning skate in an auxiliary dressing room in front of an Islanders’ banner and with the media and cameras cordoned off six feet away behind a security rope.
The San Jose Sharks on Monday said the team would “adhere to the mandated guidelines” after Santa Clara (California) County issued a mandatory order requiring “the cancellation of mass gatherings in the County.” The Sharks’ next home game is March 19.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has called for no spectators at indoor events in the state. The Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday released a statement saying the organization was aware of the governor’s recommendation but the team’s home games on Thursday and Saturday “will go on as scheduled and be open to ticketed fans.”
The Islanders are scheduled to play at Columbus on March 30, their final road game of the regular season.
“It’s moving pretty quick,” center Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “I’m sure everyone’s doing what’s possible to find a precaution for it. It’s something that’s a little bit out of our control right now. I think my mindset is not really toward that right now. It’s mostly hockey.”
“I’m pretty attuned,” center Mathew Barzal added. “Just checking Twitter and the news and seeing what’s going on. When I’m in New York, I’m a homebody regardless. I’m just going about my day. I’m not worrying about it too much. I’m not going around trying to live in a bubble. The NHL is taking good precautions with what’s going on, which is great. They’re trying to protect our players, protect everyone.”
Coach Barry Trotz said his team’s day-to-day routine has not been altered significantly, other than forcing him and his players to think about “the what-ifs.”
“You think a little bit about the future,” Trotz said. “It’s just scary times and whatever the government decides in terms of what’s right, then you have to do it. Whatever is best to put this thing to bed, everybody should be on board. There shouldn’t be any pushback.”
The Islanders have six home games remaining in the regular season, including four at the Coliseum. Their next home game is next Tuesday against the Flames at Barclays Center.
“The fans are really the seventh player,” Pageau said. “It would be really unfortunate if there were no fans.”
Trotz was asked to imagine playoff games without fans.
“It would be strange,” Trotz said. “A big element of the playoffs is the atmosphere. It would be quiet. We’ve got very competitive athletes. They’ll play just as hard with nobody in the stands.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle
Andrew Ladd-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey
Anthony Beauvillier-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Leo Komarov
Matt Martin-Derick Brassard-Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield
Andy Greene-Noah Dobson
Semyon Varlamov (19-14-5-2.59 goals-against average, .915 save percentage)
J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Tyler Toffoli
Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser
Antoine Roussel-Adam Gaudette-Zack MacEwen
Loui Eriksson-Brandon Sutter-Jake Virtanen
Alexander Edler-Troy Stecher
Quinn Hughes-Christopher Tanev
Oscar Fantenberg-Tyler Myers
Thatcher Demko (12-10-2, 3.03, .904)