The Islanders quickly will find out how ready — or rusty — they are.
The Metropolitan Division leaders, coming off their combined eight-day All-Star break and bye week, will face the NHL-leading Lightning on Friday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. The Kings are at the Coliseum the next night.
“You know what? We’re ready,” said Mathew Barzal, returning from his first All-Star appearance. “We know it’s going to be a hard second half. Teams are going to start taking us for real now. But we’re excited and we’re up for it.”
The Islanders (29-15-5) went into their break on a 15-3-1 run after a 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago on Jan. 22. The Lightning (37-11-2), who lost, 5-1, at the Coliseum on Jan. 13, came out of their 10-day layoff with a 4-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league, but we feel we’re in that conversation as well in terms of how hard we play and how much compete we have,” Barzal said. “We just can’t lose that. We can’t be satisfied with the first half we’ve had here. I don’t think we’re going to be.”
Barzal said the challenge of facing the NHL leaders immediately after a long rest will help the Islanders “be on our toes right away.” But captain Anders Lee said regaining the requisite focus and intensity after a long break is difficult.
“You see it after the Christmas break,” Lee said. “We’re just going to have to be that much more diligent, that much more attentive and ready to go.”
Notes & quotes: Left wing Michael Dal Colle and defenseman Devon Toews were recalled from Bridgeport after they were sent down for the break in order to save salary-cap space and for Dal Colle to participate in the AHL All-Star Classic.