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Isles' Anders Lee and Ross Johnston placed in COVID protocol

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders crashes

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders crashes into the boards behind the net during practice at UBS Arena on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 in Elmont, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders' COVID-19 problem worsened on Friday, a day before the team opens its new $1.1 billion UBS Arena.

Captain Anders Lee and extra forward Ross Johnston were placed in COVID-19 protocol on Friday, joining Josh Bailey, who did not accompany the team back from Florida after testing positive on Tuesday.

Islanders president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello said the team found out Thursday night about the two additional positives. Players need two negative tests to be eligible to return to the ice. Lamoriello added that the players are experiencing mild symptoms, akin to a cold.

"All players feel well and, honestly, are surprised," he said.

The Islanders are not the first team to face COVID-19 issues this month. The NHL postponed three Ottawa Senators games this week because of an outbreak that saw at least 10 players test positive. They were the first three NHL games to be postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak this season. However, Lameriello said he does not anticipate future Islanders games being postponed.

"There has been no discussion of that," Lameriello said. "I do not foresee that, unless there’s an epidemic that we’re not aware of. We practiced today, and everyone else is healthy. We all tested first thing this morning…There is no intention to cancel or postpone at this point. We’re not looking to do that."

Speaking at the UBS Arena ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he doesn’t have any concerns about Saturday’s game.

"We’re constantly monitoring what has to go on throughout the league," he said. "Listen, we have to all deal with COVID. We’re not done yet, and the Delta Variant has continued to make this challenging, but we rely on the medical experts to do what is the medically appropriate and safe thing to do."

"We’re constantly testing . . . We just deal with the realities, day-to-day, of what we’re dealing with. As far as I know, right now, we’re playing [Saturday] night."

Bailey remained quarantined in a Florida hotel as of Friday afternoon, Lamoriello said. He did not have symptoms when he was first placed into quarantine but will need to stay there until he receives two negative tests.

It was another blow to the Islanders (5-6-2), who have lost four straight and are reeling after a 13-game road trip. Bailey is the Islanders’ longest-tenured player, and Lee made his Islanders’ debut in 2013. Down to 11 forwards on their roster, they will need to bring up reinforcements from their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport for the home opener.

Lamoriello said they will be bringing up one player, and possibly two, once COVID-19 test results from the rest of the roster come in. The Islanders brought up defenseman Robin Salo on Thursday to replace the injured Ryan Pulock (lower body), who was placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

"There’s no question that you don’t replace the players that are in protocol," Lameriello said. "But this is a tremendous group of individuals, as far as handling any type of adversity that comes their way. Right now, there’s a total preparation for getting ready for tomorrow night. We had a good skate today, good meetings, and we’re just going along on a normal process. There’s nothing we can control."

In light of the recent emergence of positive tests, Lamoriello said the Islanders have reverted back to team protocols followed in "the bubble," that is the summer of 2020 playoffs that saw the Islanders advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

"We’re certainly taking every precaution we can," Lamoriello said. "We’ve tightened everything up . . . We sent out a message late last night to the entire team, staff, and [front] office to wear a full mask everywhere, as well as everything else that goes along with it."

The Islanders face the Calgary Flames on Saturday night to open their new building. They practiced at UBS for the first time on Thursday morning and, so far, are raving about the new haunts.

"I thought it was a really positive and upbeat excitement," Lamoriello said. "None of them had really seen the facility. It was done intentionally, that the first time that they would go in, it would be complete, as far as the hockey area."

Lamoriello continued: "The most important thing is to focus on the game. Certainly, opening night will be exciting to have fans behind you."

New York Sports