The Devils’ COVID-19 outbreak and its subsequent impact on the Sabres after those teams played two games this weekend in Buffalo has forced the first postponements of the Islanders’ season.
The NHL announced on Tuesday that all Sabres’ games through at least Monday have been postponed. That includes scheduled games at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
The Sabres’ Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen were added to the NHL’s COVID-protocol list on Tuesday. The Devils’ list of players in league protocol grew to 14 with Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, Damon Severson, Ty Smith and Matt Tennyson added and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood finally cleared.
"The decision was made by the League’s, NHLPA’s and Club’s medical groups, who determined that more caution was warranted while the League continues to analyze test results in the coming days," the NHL said in announcing the Sabres’ postponements. "The team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed until further notice."
The NHL there was no timetable to announce the rescheduled games but "a decision on next week’s games will be made in the coming days."
Tuesday’s game was supposed to be the start of a three-game homestand and a stretch of five of six at home for the struggling Islanders, who completed an 0-3-2 road trip with Sunday’s overtime loss in Philadelphia.
"Yeah, absolutely," captain Anders Lee said when asked if the postponement was disappointing. "We’re excited to get home, get on our home ice and get back to playing the way we want to and righting the ship. As we know, a lot of this stuff, we’ve got to be flexible. It’s understood. Follow the protocol. Whenever our next game is, we’ll be ready to go."
That will now be Saturday against the Penguins at the Coliseum.
The Sabres were unable to travel from Buffalo as scheduled on Monday because of the winter storm that dumped up to 20 inches of snow on Long Island. Their rescheduled flight for Tuesday morning also was scrubbed to allow more time for contact tracing and testing and to keep the Sabres from potentially being quarantined on the road.
It was just another reminder how fragile this 56-game regular season is amid the ongoing pandemic.
"We’ve seen it a few times in the league and we’re a part of it," said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, after putting his team through an impromptu practice on Tuesday once the team learned at 9 a.m. that night’s game had been postponed. "We just adjusted."
The Devils’ Travis Zajac was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list on Friday and did not travel with the team to Buffalo. At that point, the Devils had three players unavailable because of COVID protocol. Kyle Palmieri played for the Devils on Saturday but then missed Sunday’s game when he was added to the list. Pavel Zacha, Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod and Andreas Johnsson played both games for the Devils and were placed on the protocol list on Monday.
So, the Islanders now have a few more unexpected practice days ahead.
"I think we’re in a pretty good frame of mind, actually," Trotz said. "We’ll get one day away from the game. If things aren’t going really well, it can sometimes linger. When we get back, we’ve got to be ready to go."
Trotz said an "emphasis" during these practices will be on special teams. The Islanders’ power play was 2-for-18 on the road trip.
Notes & quotes: Anthony Beauvillier (injured reserve/lower body) has resumed skating but did not participate fully in Tuesday’s practice. Said Trotz: "He’s working through his rehab."