LAS VEGAS – Neither the Islanders nor Vegas, who meet on Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena, have gotten off to quick starts this young season after both were NHL semifinalists last season.
Perhaps that’s not unexpected.
Deep playoff runs, and the price that must be paid in terms of an intense emotional and physical commitment to have one, often have lingering effects the next season.
"To be honest with you, it’s not the easiest thing," Islanders left wing Anthony Beauvillier said. "The semifinals of the Stanley Cup, Game 7. It’s almost the top of the mountain there with the intensity level and the compete level. I think every good team goes through that.
"We did it last year. We have to go through it again this year to get back to where we were. A lot of teams have been through it. It’s no different for us. It builds character."
The Islanders, coming off Saturday night’s 3-0 win at Arizona, did bring a three-game point streak into Sunday night’s game as they continue a 13-game road trip. On the other hand, their two wins have come against teams that were both 0-4-1 through Saturday in the Coyotes and Chicago.
All four NHL semifinalists last season have struggled to play consistent hockey this season.
The Islanders and the Lightning were both 2-2-1 through Saturday while Vegas was 1-3-0 and the Canadiens were 1-5-0.
"You’re seeing that across the league," Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "I think the top four teams, we’ve all got off to a little bit of a tougher start this year. I think it’s been a challenge for these teams that have gone a little bit deep. But they’re good pros and I have a lot of faith in our group. I have a lot of faith in the teams that went deep last year that they’ll get things together. It is emotionally a little tougher for those teams that have played a lot of games in a 14-, 15-month span."
The Islanders lost Game 7 on the road to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning, 1-0 on June 25. It marked their second straight loss to the Lightning, who have won back-to-back Cups, in the NHL’s final four.
"Obviously, this year was a quick turnaround," defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "But there’s no excuses in here. It’s just finding that intensity level and that’s something that we need to get to right now and we know that as a group. We have a veteran group, and everyone understands. Those runs are fun and that’s why we play so we need to find that level again to give us a chance to get back to the playoffs."
Overall, the Islanders played 41 postseason games the past two seasons, including 22 in playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton in 2020.
Meanwhile, Vegas lost in six games to the Canadiens in last season’s other semifinal. That marked the Golden Knights’ third trip to the NHL final four in four seasons of existence, including a five-game loss to Trotz’s Capitals in the 2018 Cup Final.
The start to the Islanders’ season has been complicated by the long road trip made necessary since UBS Arena at Belmont park won’t be ready until the Nov. 20 home opener against the Flames.
At least after Sunday’s game the Islanders will get a few days back in New York. Their next game is not until Saturday at Nashville.
"We’ve dealt with some weirdness here the last couple of years," said Cal Clutterbuck of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the NHL. "So, we’ve got some practice."