Home had better be sweet for the Islanders, who certainly seem destined for a season-long battle to secure one of the East Division’s four playoff spots.
They’ll open a four-game homestand against the Sabres, whom they beat twice in Buffalo last week, on Monday night at Nassau Coliseum. It’s part of a stretch of nine of the next 10 at home, with the lone road game against the Devils. In fact, the Islanders will play their next 12 games locally, finishing with games in New Jersey on March 13 and March 14.
This after the Islanders (8-6-3) started the season playing 12 of 17 on the road, a stretch that ended with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, their second straight regulation loss in Pittsburgh.
"Everybody likes to be at home," Brock Nelson said. "A little different environment, one you’re more familiar with. Especially with the way the [COVID-19] rules and regulations are this year. With the homestand ahead of us, you want to . . . take advantage of it."
"It’ll be nice," defenseman Scott Mayfield added. "When you’re on the road, you’re just in the hotels. Days off, you just stay in your room. It can be a little long on the road. I know we like playing in the Coliseum. I’m not sure of the rules with fans but we’re hoping we get them back in there eventually."
The Islanders have yet to announce a plan for readmitting fans to the Coliseum. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is permitting sporting venues with capacities of at least 10,000 to host at 10% of capacity starting Tuesday.
Fans or not, accumulating points during this stretch, which essentially will bring the Isles to the midway point of the 56-game schedule, will be crucial for their playoff aspirations.
The Islanders (19 points) are in a three-way tie for third with the Flyers and Penguins, behind the East-leading Bruins and the Capitals. The seventh-place Devils, who have played four fewer games than the Islanders after a lengthy COVID pause, are just five points behind. Perhaps only the last-place Sabres won’t be in contention for a playoff spot.
The Islanders, who are 4-0-1 at the Coliseum, will host the Sabres four times in their next nine home games.
"We’re looking forward to getting back to the Coliseum," coach Barry Trotz said. "Hopefully we can roll some wins over and get ourselves in a real good situation . . . We’re playing every second day, so eliminating any travel probably will be welcome.
"At the same time, there’s more distractions, too," he added. "I can’t tell you how it’s going to play out. But I’m hoping the beauty of the Coliseum, we’re able to rattle off some wins there."
It would seem to be a necessity if the Islanders, who already have endured an 0-3-2 skid, are to make the playoffs for a third straight season.