CHICAGO — Barry Trotz noticed the difference at dinnertime. The coach actually needed to leave the team hotel and find a meal for himself.
The road hasn’t been kind to the Islanders, with two losses resulting from uncharacteristically poor defensive performances to start a 13-game trek. But it has been somewhat different, with the easing of COVID-19 guidelines allowing for more personal freedom and socializing.
The Islanders were off on Sunday after a 5-1 loss to the Panthers in Florida on Saturday night that upped their goals-allowed total to 11. They’ll practice at United Center on Monday before facing winless Chicago (0-2-1) on Tuesday night.
That will give Trotz more time to look for some local restaurants.
"When you’re in a bubble, everything is sort of set," he said. "Just little minor things that you tend to forget a little bit. An example: In a bubble situation, it’s 6 o’clock, you’d go down and you’d have the buffet meal. Last night, I had to find a restaurant. Just little things that you hadn’t had to do for the last 18 months. You get used to taking the elevator down a couple of floors and having a bite to eat. So everybody’s spread out a little bit more than the traditional bubble."
Not that it’s been a road party.
Cal Clutterbuck said many things seem the same, even after one playoff run in locked-down bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton and last season’s limited regular-season travel.
"It’s different being in different hotels and buildings you haven’t been in but, just like anything else, it comes back pretty quick," he said. "It might feel like a long time, but once you get back in that environment, back in that situation, the memories and the familiarity come back quickly.
Most places are the same. The vegetation outside might be a little different. The climate might be a little different. The food might be a little different. But generally speaking, it’s a hotel room with four walls, a bed and a TV."
Clutterbuck and identity-line center Casey Cizikas may be rejoined on Tuesday night by Matt Martin, who missed the first two regular-season games and all of the preseason after offseason ankle surgery.
Trotz hinted after Saturday’s loss that Martin, who has been participating fully in practice, might be ready to return. Ross Johnston was in his spot in Thursday’s season-opening 6-3 loss at Carolina and Leo Komarov dressed on Saturday.
The fourth line was noticeably quieter in both games in establishing a forecheck. At least, that was Trotz’s assessment.
"We’re just trying to play simple," Cizikas said. "I thought we did a good job [Saturday] getting the puck in deep, getting on it quick and creating some chaos. Clutter had a great chance in the first, he hit the post.
It’s just a matter of playing our game and doing what we have to to help our team. We just have to do that for a full 60 [minutes]."