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Isles' 13-game road trip nearing the end

New York Islanders' Zach Parise (11), former team

New York Islanders' Zach Parise (11), former team member of the Minnesota Wild, waves to fans after being highlighted in a video during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. Credit: AP/Stacy Bengs

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Islanders are tired of their season-opening stretch of 13 road games. Not so much tired of playing it, but tired of talking about it.

It is understandable that fans and journalists are fascinated by their five-week tour of North America. This is not something that comes along every day — or ever.

But from the start, Barry Trotz and his players have sought to downplay the challenge and just roll with it.

Take Sunday night, when the Wild ended the Isles’ seven-game point streak with a 5-2 victory.

The Islanders coughed up a 2-1 lead entering the third period, during which the visitors were outshot 16-2, then were given several opportunities afterward to attribute the fade to playing three games in four nights. They declined.

"I think we had our legs in the third period," Mathew Barzal said. "[The Wild] is a good hockey team."

Said Zdeno Chara: "It’s still early in the season. I think our coaching staff and management has obviously planned well for us to be ready for these stretches."

Playing three games in four nights is not unusual for NHL teams, but the stretch capped a period of weirdness that featured six games in 11 nights across assorted time zones, then one game in 10 days — allowing for some quality family time — then three in four.

"We’re OK with it," Trotz said. "It is what it is. It’s not an excuse. We’re fine. We’ve been fine on the road."

Trotz, whose players had the day off on Monday, did acknowledge looking forward to a pending return to relative normalcy. There is a visit to the Devils on Thursday, a quick back-to-back swing through Florida next week and then . . . home!

Starting with the Nov. 20 opener against the Flames at UBS Arena, the Islanders will play five of seven at home and travel no farther than Philadelphia through Dec. 2.

If the playoffs started today, the Islanders (5-3-2) would not qualify. But the playoffs do not start today, and under the circumstances, things could be worse than securing 12 points out of a possible 20.

The Islanders mostly have played to their recent identity as a balanced offensive team that annoys opponents to distraction on defense when given a lead — something that made Sunday’s late flop particularly surprising.

As Matt Martin said, "We don’t give up a lot of leads going into the third period the last three years."

After praising his four-line contributions in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Jets, Trotz lamented that a couple went missing on Sunday.

But 10 games into the season, there are more positives than negatives. Ilya Sorokin has a goals-against average under 2.00. The team so far has been relatively healthy.

There is a long, long road ahead. But at last, the Islanders can see a rest stop in Elmont on the horizon.

New York Sports