The Islanders need to string together wins but are unexpectedly waiting until Saturday’s game against the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum to try and snap a five-game losing streak. Two home games against the Sabres were postponed with that team going through COVID-19 issues, including Thursday’s announcement that 61-year-old coach Ralph Krueger had tested positive.
So far, the Islanders (3-4-2) have been largely unable to play with consistency, either game to game or period to period. This follows a quick, 10-day training camp without preseason games. But coach Barry Trotz discounted that as an explanation, saying every team went through the same thing.
"There are certain players who would benefit," Trotz told Newsday on Wednesday before the team was off on Thursday. "Like [Russian rookie goalie Ilya] Sorokin would have benefitted from a preseason. I think, for the rest of the guys, it’s pretty much the same. I don’t think there’s any excuse.
"Some of our guys haven’t gotten traction yet," Trotz added. "And when we get everybody getting traction we’re capable of running off a number of wins because of the style of play we generally play."
That includes Casey Cizikas’ line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, who have not consistently provided the hard-working, forechecking identity the rest of the team is used to following.
"I think it’s part of the group," Trotz said. "I think when they’re all going really well, they’re really effective. They’re sort of going like our team. They’re effective for a couple of periods and then they’re not there. We have lapses which are causing us points."
Sorokin made 25 saves in his third NHL start, Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Philadelphia to conclude an 0-3-2 road trip. The highly-touted prospect has finally joined the Islanders after five All-Star seasons in the KHL.
He practiced with the team in the Toronto and Edmonton playoff bubbles but is learning to adjust his game to the smaller North American rinks without the benefit of preseason games.
"Ilya has come and done everything that’s been asked and he’s acclimated pretty well," Trotz said. "We just haven’t gotten him the game reps. That’s not our fault. It’s not his fault. It’s making the best of it. But I think every time he gets in a game, he’s getting more comfortable to the smaller rinks and what guys do over here versus in Europe."
But Trotz has little time to experiment or wait for players to find their needed consistency in a shortened, 56-game season. The Islanders, three points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division, have already played 16% of their schedule.
"I mean, it’s a weird season," Mathew Barzal said. "It doesn’t feel like it’s early in the season, that’s for sure. It definitely feels like we’ve got our legs under us and played some games now. We’re just trying to be adaptable. Whether we’re playing or not. We’re just trying to do our best to just stay focused and get some good practices in now."