OTTAWA, Ontario — Barry Trotz pointed to his forehead.
“When you’re really sharp, it’s not really the legs, it’s right here,” the Islanders coach said.
And there’s no doubt the Islanders have been struggling over the last two games with their mental focus as much as they’ve been ravaged by a stomach virus and now a likely injury to their No. 1 goalie. They conclude a home-and-home series with the NHL-worst Senators on Thursday night at Canadian Tire Centre after ending a disappointing 2-3 homestand with Tuesday night’s 5-4 shootout win as the Senators overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period.
The Islanders (38-21-7) cancelled their scheduled practice on Wednesday, just as they had done on Monday, and they brought up forwards Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang on emergency recall on Tuesday just to ensure they would have enough healthy bodies. On Wednesday, goalie Christopher Gibson was recalled from the Sound Tigers on an emergency basis with Robin Lehner’s status unclear after he exited Tuesday’s win in the third period with a possible head injury after being bowled over by Brady Tkachuk.
Including upper-body injuries to fourth-line wings Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, it’s unclear who Trotz will have available on Thursday night.
But Trotz also has been unsure lately of which players will be at their sharpest on a game-to-game basis.
“I would like to say it’s everybody but there are certain individuals I’ve got to get to right now,” Trotz said. “It’s been a little bit problematic lately because one game it’s three guys, then the next game it’s these five players.
“It’ll probably do us some good to get on the road,” Trotz added. “I love this place [NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum] but it’s probably time for us to regroup and sometimes you regroup on the road.”
Even with Tuesday’s win, the Islanders are still in a 3-4-1 skid. They are two points behind the Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division and only four points ahead of the Eastern Conference’s last wildcard spot.
The power play was 0-for-3 on Tuesday and 0-for-13 over six games. The Senators, particularly in the first and third periods, were able to beat the Islanders along the walls and to the crease.
“You’re going to run through these patches and you don’t want to do that the last 20 games of the year,” captain Anders Lee said. “The season can get long. It can become a grind and things aren’t coming easy. Hockey becomes tough. You can’t seem to find a goal or a bounce, let alone a win. So, we just have to stick together.”
At this point in the season, there are two types of opponents: Teams in the hunt for a playoff berth or teams playing without pressure as their players compete for jobs next season. The trade-depleted Senators are the latter.
“We’ve been in that spot before,” center Brock Nelson said. “You play free and you play open and try to win games and try to ruin it for some other teams that are trying to make playoff pushes. You just have to elevate this time of year.”