Both Barry Trotz and his Islanders players are attempting to balance flexibility and focus as much as they ever have in their careers.
Such are the demands of trying to play through a COVID-19 outbreak that leaves the coach uncertain from hour to hour who he might have available to dress.
The Islanders hosted the Maple Leafs and ex-captain John Tavares on Sunday night after opening their $1.1 billion UBS Arena with a makeshift lineup in a 5-2 loss to the Flames the previous night.
"It’s a little bit of adversity for our group," right wing Kyle Palmieri said after Saturday’s loss, the Islanders’ fifth in a row. "Barry has kind of harped on just staying in the moment. We didn’t know what our lineup was going to look like coming into [Saturday]. We don’t really know too much about [Sunday]. We’re playing for the guys that couldn’t be here. We’re just going to continue to do that whether it’s the same lineup or different. We’re going to show up, work hard and play for each other."
Captain Anders Lee, Josh Bailey - the longest-tenured Islander, Kieffer Bellows, Ross Johnston and defensemen Adam Pelech and Andy Greene were all in COVID-19 protocol for Sunday’s game.
Robin Salo and Grant Hutton made their NHL debuts on Saturday and Andy Andreoff and Richard Panik to come in and fill out the four lines. Salo had been called up from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on Thursday while the other three were recalled on Saturday.
"It’s nice to be home and I think we fed off the energy," said defenseman Scott Mayfield, who played in his 300th game on Sunday. "It’s been a tough couple of days as far as everything going on. A lot of adversity, especially when we’re not winning games."
"The mindset is what you’ve got to do to prepare to win a hockey game. That’s where our mindset is 24/7. We do all the right protocols. We do everything we can to keep ourselves safe, the staff, fans and then our family back at home. At the end of the day, when you get to the rink, it’s to win hockey games. That’s what we’re paid to do and that’s what we’ve got to do."
While Panik and Andreoff both have prior NHL experience – Panik entered Sunday having played 518 games for seven different organizations – Salo and Hutton are still promising prospects.
Hutton, 26, was an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio), just like Greene, who just played in his 1,000th NHL game. Thee 6-4, 207-pound right-hander, has played 99 games with Bridgeport since 2019.
The left-handed Salo, 23, was a second-round pick in 2017 from Finland who is in his first North American season after playing the last two seasons in Sweden. He impressed the coaching staff with a strong training and the 6-2, 192-pounder continued to make a good impression on Saturday.
Salo logged a team-high 21:42 of ice time, including 4:14 on the power play, with a game-high four blocked shots against the Flames.
The Islanders brought Salo up before their COVID-19 outbreak rapidly expanded as they needed a replacement with top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock (lower body) out for four to six weeks.
"He had a really good camp," Trotz said. "He played in the elite league over in Sweden. He’s a good, young player. He’s got a lot of poise. He handles the puck really well. He sees the ice really well. On the power play, he’s got a lot of deception. I love the fact that he gets [the puck] and he moves it. It opens up some lanes."