The in-season vacation was welcome, even necessary. The Islanders readily admitted to physical and mental exhaustion when they headed into their 10-day All-Star Game/bye week break.
Some players went to Arizona. Some traveled to the Caribbean. One went to Iceland. Mathew Barzal was in St. Louis for his second straight All-Star Game.
But well-rested can’t become overly-rusted as the Islanders battle to maintain a playoff spot.
The Islanders resumed practice on Thursday in East Meadow after two days of optional skates that were not supervised by the coaching staff. They will resume their season on Saturday afternoon against the Canucks at Barclays Center, the start of a condensed schedule of 33 games in 64 days through the season finale on April 4. They will have consecutive days off only three times.
“The biggest thing coming off the bye week is trying to get the rust off as soon as possible,” coach Barry Trotz said.
“You probably don’t want to look at the standings every day with how tight they are,” Brock Nelson said. “You can’t look past anything and every game is going to be crucial down the stretch from Saturday.”
The Islanders are in third place in the Metropolitan Division but are one point ahead of the fourth-place Blue Jackets and two points ahead of the Maple Leafs, their closest pursuer in the Eastern Conference that is not in a playoff spot.
“The race is so tight,” said Barzal, who won the NHL’s fastest skater competition in St. Louis. “You see teams like Philly and Toronto out of a playoff spot right now, you know they’re going to make a push. We can’t get complacent at all. Every point from here on out is huge.”
The Islanders were 2-3-2 in a grueling 11 days going into the break. They were just 6-6-2 since the NHL’s three-day holiday break in December.
The exhaustion showed in a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 21. Trotz benched Barzal in the third period after a near-disastrous second-period turnover and was furious after the game after two late penalties and the team’s inability to connect for an empty-net goal.
“We were doing tired things, things that were out of character,” Trotz said.
As a result, the cushion in the standings built during a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23 is gone.
“You have a run like that and then you lose some games, it’s weird,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, no, what’s going on?’ There’s some panic and we’re just bouncing around .500. Yeah, the break came at a good time.”
Notes & quotes: Cal Clutterbuck, out indefinitely after having his left wrist slashed by a skate blade on Dec. 19, has resumed skating on his own. “He’s not shooting any pucks or anything,” Trotz said. “He’s weeks away.” . . . Defenseman Sebastian Aho was recalled from Bridgeport after participating in the AHL All-Star Game . . . Faceoff against the Red Wings on Feb. 21 at the Coliseum was pushed back to 8 p.m. to accommodate John Tonelli’s jersey retirement ceremony that precedes the game.