Just as COVID-19 may be pushing the NHL to the brink of further scheduling issues, the Islanders seemingly are on the cusp of regaining some consistency in their game.
They have won two straight at UBS Arena, where they will play five of their next six through the rest of December. The Islanders next face Vegas on Sunday afternoon, the front end of a back-to-back that also brings the Canadiens to their new $1.1 billion home on Monday night.
They are 3-2-3 this month after ending November with eight straight regulation losses as they dealt with a widespread COVID-19 outbreak and a spate of injuries.
The last-place Islanders (8-12-5) did not practice on Friday after topping the visiting Bruins, 3-1, on Thursday night, so there was no update on Mathew Barzal (COVID-19 protocol) or Kyle Palmieri, who exited in the second period with a lower-body injury.
If coach Barry Trotz had one quibble with Thursday’s win, it was that the Islanders did not stay aggressive enough after entering the third period with a 2-0 lead.
"We haven’t won a lot of games this year, so maybe we’re a little rusty in that area," Trotz said. "It’s a process. We’ve been trying to get our game back to where we feel it’s acceptable night in and night out. Get rid of the catastrophic mistakes that we’ve been making. Hopefully we can get a little traction at home.
"If we’re playing the right way and the effort is at a high level and the commitment is at a high level and the accountability to each other is at a high level, we’ll win hockey games because we’ve got enough good players."
There has been increasing chatter, including from some players around the NHL, that the league should consider pausing all games through the planned holiday break from Dec. 24-26.
The Canadiens beat the Flyers on Thursday night without fans at Bell Centre, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases and a request from Quebec public health officials as the reasons for barring attendance.
The NHL announced on Friday that it was postponing the Bruins’ game at Montreal on Saturday after they played the Islanders with seven players unavailable because of COVID-19 protocol. The league also announced it has postponed all Flames, Avalanche and Panthers games through Dec. 26.
The Flames have 19 players in COVID-19 protocol and have confirmed cases of the Omicron variant among the organization.
It is possible that travel across the U.S.-Canada border again could be restricted, as it was last season. The Islanders are scheduled to play in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto in January.
The NHL’s planned participation in February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing is very much a growing question.
The Islanders had two games postponed in November at the height of their COVID-19 outbreak after playing two games with six players unavailable. Barzal is the ninth player to test positive since Nov. 16 but the only one currently unavailable.
Every player in the NHL is vaccinated other than the Red Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi.