Islanders head coach Barry Trotz directs his players during training...

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz directs his players during training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Sept. 23. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

RALEIGH, N.C. – The new season started with great expectations for the Islanders, and, finally, a sense of some normalcy.

They hadn’t played the Hurricanes – their opponent for Thursday night’s season-opener at a packed PNC Arena as the Islanders began a franchise-record 13-game road trip – since just before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down sports, and most everything else in life. The players, all vaccinated, can socialize on the road again. And Thursday night marked the start of a full slate of 82 games after two, pandemic-shortened seasons.

Even seeing media in person for the first time since a practice in Calgary on March 11, 2020 was a welcome sight for coach Barry Trotz.

"It’s exciting to see you guys within feet of us," Trotz said. "I’m anticipating an enjoyable season where you’re going to have the ups and downs. But I think it’s getting back to normal, hopefully."

The NHL has gone back to a full schedule after teams played only within their division last season. The Hurricanes, temporarily reassigned to the Central Division last season, are expected to be among the Metropolitan Division favorites along with the Islanders. The teams hadn’t met since the Hurricanes won, 3-2, in overtime at Nassau Coliseum on March 7, 2020.

Trotz’s first game as Islanders coach came in a 2-1 overtime win at Carolina on Oct. 4, 2018 and he named Anders Lee the captain shortly before the game. Since then, Trotz has led the Islanders to the playoffs in three straight seasons, including back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals, with losses to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Lightning each time.

Not surprisingly, the Islanders enter 2021-22 considered a likely Cup contender.

"I think it’s really just keeping that approach of one day, one game at a time," Josh Bailey said. "It’s an exciting time of the year and you always want to start off on the right foot."

Like any coach, Trotz is looking for the Islanders to set a tone quickly in establishing the type of hockey they hope to play. Translating that into early success on the road will be crucial because the Islanders’ first-ever game at the new, $1.1 billion UBS Arena at Belmont Park, won’t be until Nov. 20 against the Flames.

"What I want is us to be a consistent team and understand what works for us and what works against other teams and stick to that mentality," Trotz said. "I think we have the group that will be up for that. But you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve been watching a few of the games. Some of the outcomes have not gone the way I would have predicted. Some of the games have not been as close as I would have predicted. It’s early in the season, there’s still a hodgepodge of what you’re going to get."

But after one playoff run played entirely in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton and strict health guidelines last season that made being on the road feel anything but normal, Trotz is looking forward to what this season will bring.

"Every year is the start of a new journey," he said. "You have a plan but nothing ever goes to plan, it seems, in pro sports. But we’re excited. This is getting back to a little bit more normal with the emotion of a full house. I think the fans bring that emotion. This is a good sign. I’m excited for our group. I’m excited for our conference. I think it will be a grind that I know our team will be up for and will embrace."

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