The Islanders knew what to expect during the busier periods of this condensed, 56-game schedule. That doesn’t make it any less of a grind.
"It’s a challenge, it really is for everyone," defenseman Andy Greene said. "It’s making sure on our off days and the other days you’re doing everything possible to give yourself the best chance to feel right for the game, have energy for the game. It just comes down to rest and recovery and making sure you’re doing the right things away from the rink."
The Islanders faced the Flyers on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, the middle game of a three-game series between the teams being played over five days. It’s part of a grueling stretch of 18 games over 33 days through March 29.
It would have been 19 games in that span but Tuesday’s game in Boston was postponed with the Bruins dealing with COVID-19 protocol issues. The Bruins, who also had Saturday night’s game in Buffalo postponed, are hoping to re-open their practice facility on Wednesday and resume training.
But the Islanders’ game in Boston scheduled for Thursday must be considered questionable as well and having to make up either one or two games will only further condense the future schedule.
Coach Barry Trotz said the Islanders altered their original travel plans and will now return to New York after Monday night’s game in Philadelphia rather than go directly to Boston.
The Islanders had lost two straight entering Saturday’s game and Trotz acknowledged he would like to have the time to run an intensive practice. But he must plan his practices judiciously during the heavy slate of games.
The Islanders did practice on Friday after Thursday night’s 4-3 loss to the Flyers at the Coliseum in which they were passive and sloppy the first two periods. But it was a short session lasting 25 minutes as Trotz focused solely on a trio of Thursday’s deficiencies.
"It’s the rest and recovery," Trotz said. "It might not be the body. The guys are in pretty good shape. I’m probably more conscious of the mind than I am of the body. I know the guys take care of themselves. That’s not an issue for me.
"Would a coach relish a practice? One really good one where we could go over a couple of things and tighten up some things would be helpful. But it will have to be at the right time and it will have to be weighed in with the whole schedule. We don’t have a complete picture of next week’s schedule. Once we do, we’ll make a plan and try to make it the right plan."
The more consistent elements of the Islanders’ game that fueled a nine-game winning streak and 11-0-1 run that was snapped in Tuesday’s 3-1 road loss to the Capitals have slipped.
"There’s certain areas that we can be better in but, at the same time, it’s going to happen throughout the season," Greene said. "Especially this crazy year that we’ve been playing through."
Not that this unique season’s tight schedule is necessarily a negative. The players always prefer games to practices.
"It definitely can be [more fun, when you’re playing well and winning," left wing Matt Martin said. "We’ve had a successful season to this point. You feel good about playing every night and not practicing. You just keep going and you feel like everything’s clicking. On the flip side, if you start to go through a little bit of a lull or start to lose your game a little bit, it’s tough to find that practice time."
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