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Islanders expect to play Thursday — until they're told otherwise

New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson pursues New

New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson pursues New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson on Dec. 11, 2021, at UBS Arena. Credit: Corey Sipkin

As the Islanders have learned over and over this season, when it comes to the NHL schedule, nothing is set in stone until the game is actually played.

So while the Islanders are planning and preparing to finally resume play against the COVID-19-impacted Devils on Thursday night at UBS Arena, there’s still some wariness until the puck drops.

"That’s the first thing that comes to mind," coach Barry Trotz said after Monday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "But we’re preparing for Thursday. I think the league has a pretty good handle on it, so they’ll make a call and we’ll go from there."

The Devils’ home game against the Lightning on Monday night was postponed; nine of their players are in COVID-19 protocol after defenseman Damon Severson and forward Janne Kuokkanen were added to the list on Sunday. Jesper Bratt and Nathan Bastian entered COVID-19 protocol on Saturday.

"Our approach is we’re playing Thursday, regardless," Zach Parise said. "Until we get told the game is off, which hopefully it’s not going to be, we’re gearing up to play."

The Islanders have not played since a 3-2 overtime win over the Oilers on Jan. 1. If they do play Thursday, it will end a stretch of three games in 25 days. They still have nine postponed games to reschedule.

"Ideally, we need to play," Trotz said. "We’ve practiced enough. The guys, they’re ready to go. They want to play. They’re getting a little tired of practicing and we need to get some games in, plain and simple. We can’t be 10, 11, 12 games behind everybody else."

The Islanders (10-12-6) were 12 points out of a wild-card spot at the start of Monday’s play. Including Monday’s action, they will have played at least four fewer games than any other Eastern Conference playoff contender. The Rangers, Lightning and Capitals will have played nine more games.

The Islanders have gone 5-2-4 since Dec. 7 and are fully healthy except for top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock (long-term injured reserve/lower body). But battling back into playoff contention will be a daunting task when they do start playing games again.

Trotz said he breaks down seasons into three-game segments, with the goal of always getting at least four of those six possible points.

"That probably still applies," he said. "But just worry about the game in front of us. For us, more than anything, it’s get to our [style of] game, and the only way you get to it is Thursday against New Jersey."

Or, if not Thursday, whenever the Islanders do play again.

Notes & quotes: Monday marked eight weeks since Pulock, initially expected to miss four to six weeks, was injured. Trotz said he has been skating on his own but that there’s no timetable for him to rejoin the team. "He’s still in his protocols in terms of his timeline," Trotz said. "I know that he’s been seeing the doctor and going through all the stages, all the imagery, all that. When they say he’s ready to pop over to the group, then I’ll have an update."

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