There were no fans at Nassau Coliseum for the Islanders’ 7-2 win over the Bruins on Thursday night, and that will be the case for the next six home contests.
But just knowing that fans will be back in mid-March, even at a limited capacity, was a boost to the Islanders.
"There’s something about the human spirit, the human emotion that you can’t replicate," coach Barry Trotz said. "It’s pure joy, it’s pure anger. It’s pure everything. It’s fellowship. It’s the event. It’s the buzz. There’s nothing that can replicate that."
New York state indoor sports venues with a capacity of at least 10,000 now can host fans at 10% of capacity. For the Coliseum, that will be slightly under 1,400 fans once the doors do open.
"I think everybody’s happy it’s trending toward that," Brock Nelson said. "You’d like to have full buildings. But we’ll take what we’ll get. There will be some more energy in the building. So it’s exciting that we finally have a date we can circle for that."
March 18 against the Flyers is the date circled for season-ticket subscribers to be back at the Coliseum, and season-ticket holders will have priority for purchasing tickets.
But the Islanders will first host 1,000 Northwell Health front-line workers on March 11 against the Devils in appreciation of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That will be particularly special for Trotz.
"It’s been tough on the athletes, but our sacrifice compared to the front-line workers is minimal," he said. "Those guys are rock stars, the men and women on the front line. The sacrifices they’ve made, I can’t imagine. It will be fantastic to see them in the arena. If it would be allowed, I’d give everyone a hug."
Not including March 11, there will be 14 regular-season games with fans permitted.
Rotating linemates for Pageau
Somewhat apologetically, Trotz praised Jean-Gabriel Pageau this week, saying he had used every wing on the roster at one point with his third-line center and that the only positions he hadn’t asked Pageau to play yet were defenseman and goalie.
Nonetheless, Trotz again switched Pageau’s linemates Thursday night.
Trotz reinserted pesky Leo Komarov on Pageau’s left wing for former Bruin Austin Czarnik, who logged 9:11 without a shot in Monday’s 3-2 win over the Sabres. It was Czarnik’s second game of the season; he had not been in the lineup since Jan. 31.
Thursday marked rookie Oliver Wahlstrom’s 10th straight game on Pageau’s right wing. But Anthony Beauvillier, Komarov and Czarnik have been on Pageau’s left wing during that stretch.
"You’ve just got to be mentally strong," Czarnik said on Wednesday before going back to the taxi squad for Thursday’s game. "You’ve got to show up to work every single day, and that’s the mindset I’ve tried to have every day here. There have been ups and downs, but so far, it’s been good with all of us. We’ve all had positive attitudes, and when we get the chance to go in, we’re all trying to make the most of it."
Thursday marked the first time goalie Jaroslav Halak faced his former team since he left the Islanders via free agency and signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Bruins on July 1, 2018. The Islanders welcomed him with a seven-goal barrage in their victory over the Bruins.
In previous stops with the Canadiens, Blues and Capitals, Halak compiled a 7-1-1 record with a 1.53 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and two shutouts in nine career games against the Islanders.
Halak last faced the Islanders on Jan. 25, 2014, making 33 saves in the Blues’ 4-3 shootout win at the Coliseum.