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Islanders' COVID-19 outbreak could have long-term effect on struggling team

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz looks on from

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz looks on from the bench against the Rangers at UBS Arena on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders were silent on Sunday instead of facing the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, their first of at least two games postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

They might resume their season on Thursday against the Sharks at UBS Arena if they can go three straight days without any new positive tests. Casey Cizikas became the eighth Islanders player to test positive on Saturday, prompting the NHL to finally pause their season.

Yet the Islanders’ health still will be in question whenever they do resume their season. The long-term effects COVID-19 might leave on the infected players have yet to be determined.

In addition to Cizikas, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Ross Johnston, Kieffer Bellows, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara have all tested positive. Bailey, the first to test positive on Nov. 16, resumed skating with the Islanders on Saturday, the team’s last practice before being shut down.

In addition, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said on Saturday three unnamed, non-playing members of the organization also have tested positive.

"We certainly have spoken to our trainers and our medical staff and everything is on an individual basis," Lamoriello said when asked about the infected players’ stamina once they return to the ice. "This virus has affected people in all different ways. It certainly has affected our own players. So, we won’t have any answers to those questions until we get each and every one of them on the ice and see how they feel and see how they look."

Coach Barry Trotz said earlier in the week that some of the players who tested positive for COVID-19 had been "hit hard," while others experienced minimal effects.

There’s also the Islanders’ health as it relates to the standings, though that’s clearly secondary. But the last-place Islanders have lost eight straight, including their first four games at UBS Arena and all five since their COVID-19 outbreak began as they were forced to dress a hybrid NHL/AHL roster.

The team’s issues started beforehand and won’t magically be solved once they resume playing. Defenseman Ryan Pulock and second-line center Brock Nelson both will remain sidelined with lower-body injuries.

Inconsistent play among other defensemen forced Trotz to break up his long-standing top pair of Pelech and Pulock just four games into the season. That was done to buttress, among others, the slow-starting Chara and Noah Dobson, but not having Pulock and Pelech together long term weakens the team.

Plus, scoring slumps by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, and the abysmal performance of the Islanders’ power play predate the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Islanders’ 32 total goals are the fewest in the NHL and Nelson has scored nine of them.

Finally, Cizikas’ fourth line with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck has been inconsistent in its identity-setting role since Martin rejoined the lineup after missing the season’s first two games.

The issues are many. The answers, right now, are unclear.

New York Sports