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Islanders embrace practice time in season with few breaks

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz looks on against

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz looks on against the Sabres at Nassau Coliseum on March 7. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Cal Clutterbuck woke up on Thursday morning and thought about that night’s hockey game. He had gone three days without doing so, a rarity in this shortened and condensed, 56-game regular season.

The Islanders open a three-game road trip with the first of back-to-back games in Boston on Thursday night. They last played in Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers that concluded a 5-1-0 homestand at Nassau Coliseum.

"When you’re in it, you’re in it and you don’t really think about much else, you just try and tackle the day that’s in front of you," Clutterbuck said. "If you have that mindset, then days don’t seem like they’re dragging on that much. You just hit the reset button every morning."

But the Islanders' mini-vacation from games did not mean all work stopped.

 

Coach Barry Trotz conducted back-to-back practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, a luxury in a season in which getting any practice time has been difficult.

Much like the multiple practices they had the first week of February when two home games against the Sabres were canceled with that team dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, Trotz used his precious practice time to concentrate on special teams work.

Specifically, the stagnant power play that was just 2-for-16 on the homestand.

So, Trotz had small groups working on the power play before the full group started practice. Then, there were special teams drills during practice.

"It was just getting back to some of the basic foundations on our five-on-five," Trotz said of the practices. "From a power-play standpoint, it was about moving the puck, making yourself dangerous. I thought we were way too predictable, too slow. We didn’t create chaos for the penalty killers and we didn’t shoot the puck enough."

Thursday’s game marked the start of another stretch of three games in four nights and six games in 10 nights overall.

In other words, right back to the grind in the playoff push.

"There’s definitely advantages to it," Jordan Eberle said of the mini-break. "We’ve played so many games in a short period of time. More than anything, it’s just nice to get a mental rest. You get away from the travel, the grind of getting ready for a game each night. To have that little break there in between and really coming down to the stretch of the last 14 games and into playoffs, you feel rejuvenated a little bit.

"It gives you time to work on the power play, which we did quite a bit."

The Islanders entered Thursday having won the first five in the eight-game season series with the Bruins.

The Bruins, who also had games postponed because of COVID-19, are in a stretch of playing 17 games in 29 days.

Teams have gotten used to that breakneck pace this season.

"It’s kind of weird sitting at home, not playing on certain nights when we’ve been playing a lot," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "It’s nice to have the rest. It’s nice to get away from the rink mentally and physically."

Clutterbuck said another benefit of the downtime from games was it came after a long homestand.

"It is nice to have a couple of days," Clutterbuck said. "We’ve been home for a little while. You get to spend time with your kids and unplug a little bit from hockey. I think that’s the biggest thing when you’re playing every day: Your mind is always on the game. It’s nice to get away from the game for a day, day and a half."

That changed on Thursday. It was time to think about the game again.

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