Nobody wanted a pandemic. But the Islanders certainly needed a reset.
Training camp 2.0, which will start Monday at the team’s practice facility in East Meadow, represents a chance for the Islanders to shake off the inconsistency that marked much of their play from Thanksgiving through March 12, when the season was placed on pause in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The four months since their last game — the Islanders were on an 0-3-4 slide after losing a 5-4 shootout in Vancouver on March 10 — has allowed top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech (Achilles tendon), center Casey Cizikas (left leg laceration) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (left eye) to heal.
“They seem to be in really good shape,” coach Barry Trotz said on a teleconference on Saturday. “With Adam’s injury, he might be in the best shape. He’s had to rehab right through the summer. The same with Casey getting back. I don’t see any drop-off. I expect both of them will have a big impact like they usually do.”
Trotz’s main job during this second training camp will be to quickly assess where players are with their fitness and which lineup will give the Islanders the best chance to win — with little room for losing.
The Islanders, who put together a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12-Nov. 25, were one point out of the final wild-card spot when play was halted.
The Islanders will report to their hub city quarantine bubble in Toronto on July 26, with exhibition games July 28-30. Their best-of-five qualifying series against the Panthers opens on Aug. 1.
The Islanders can have 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies participate in training camp. A maximum of 31 players can be on their hub-city roster.
Bridgeport forwards Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom are likely to get a chance to compete for a spot on the travel squad. Sound Tigers goalie Christopher Gibson almost certainly will be brought as a third option behind Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss.
“Just like anything, I’m going to let camp dictate,” Trotz said of choosing between Varlamov and Greiss. “That’s one area I’m not worried about a whole lot.”
Either Bellows or Wahlstrom might add some scoring punch to the lineup, but Trotz will have little time to experiment.
Instead, Pelech, Cizikas and Boychuk will be the key additions to the roster the Islanders dressed on March 12.
Cizikas’ crucial fourth line, which Trotz relies upon to set the team’s hard-working identity, was intact for only 19 games during the season. Matt Martin missed nine games after suffering a left leg injury on Oct. 25 and Cal Clutterbuck was sidelined for 30 games after having his left wrist cut by a skate blade on Dec. 19.
Trotz has said Cizikas’ return will allow him to balance the rest of his forward lines. Mathew Barzal is expected to remain between Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle on a top line, with Brock Nelson likely centering Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, acquired from the Senators at the trade deadline on Feb. 24, will anchor a third line. Derick Brassard will be on one wing, with Michael Dal Colle, Andrew Ladd, Tom Kuhnhackl and Leo Komarov vying for a spot on the other wing.
Pelech’s return will be equally important, if not more so. He’s developed into the Islanders’ best shutdown defenseman and has formed a very efficient top pair with hard-shooting Ryan Pulock.
The Islanders gave up an average of 2.6 goals in Pelech’s 38 games. That rose to an average of 3.1 goals in the 30 games after Pelech’s injury.
Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy-Boychuk were the other steady pairs when Pelech was healthy, but Trotz does have defense depth. Former Devils captain Andy Greene, acquired on Feb. 16, filled in admirably and will push for a spot in the lineup in training camp.
So will former regular Thomas Hickey, who spent almost all of his injury-filled season with Bridgeport, and rookie Noah Dobson.