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Isles happy to be back home but need their 'collective game' to turn things around

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders celebrates his first-period

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders celebrates his first-period goal against the Devils with teammates Anders Lee and Josh Bailey at Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The road trip yielded just two out of a possible10 points. In a normal season, coming back to Nassau Coliseum might boost the Islanders’ overall game, particularly after back-to-back overtime losses in Philadelphia last weekend when glimpses of how the team must play to win could be seen.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping fans out of the venerable barn. Still, the Islanders will be pleased to be back for a three-game homestand that opens Tuesday night with the start of a two-game series with the Sabres. The winter storm prevented the Sabres from traveling from Buffalo to Long Island on Monday afternoon, and the team is planning to fly on Tuesday morning.

It starts a stretch of five of six games at the Coliseum with the lone road game next Monday against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"Of course, it will be different," captain Anders Lee said. "Unfortunately, we don’t have overuse of it at our home games at the Coliseum. But, still in your own bed, still with your families. We have that opportunity to regroup here after a little bit over a week away. I think we’re looking forward to getting back and getting on our ice where we are most comfortable regardless if we have fans or not."

The Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period in Sunday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. The night before, they rallied from a two-goal, first-period deficit in a 3-2 overtime defeat. That left them 0-3-2 on a road trip that also included two losses to the depleted Capitals and started with a 2-0 defeat to the Devils.

It was eight straight nights in hotels under the much stricter NHL protocols for travel during the pandemic. Players can no longer hang out with each other in the rooms or go out to eat together as room-service meals are mandated. It’s not quite the same rules as the playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton when the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference finals since players can now go outside. But the usual on-the-road camaraderie is affected.

"I think it’ll be good because it’ll be a little bit normal," coach Barry Trotz said of returning home. "I’m not complaining, because we stay in great hotels and there are so many people that are suffering. But you’re sort of a hostage in your own hotel and it does get a little bit numbing. It’s not a complaint. It’s just the reality that we have to stay diligent."

"He’s not lying," right wing Josh Bailey said. "I think what makes it a little longer, too, is when you’re not getting the results you need. We might be saying something different if we had five wins. But it’s part of the obstacles every team has to face this year and we’re up to the challenge. That being said, we’re looking forward to getting home. We want to start it the right way."

The Islanders played seven of their first nine gams on the road and have won both of their home games, topping the Bruins, 1-0, on Jan. 18 and the Devils, 4-1, three nights later.

"Getting back home, hopefully that’ll be a remedy but, to me, we’ve got to fix our individual game and then our collective game," Trotz said. "Our strength is our collective game and we’re going to need everybody contributing. We haven’t been able to put everything together yet. But, when we do, I think we’re capable of having a pretty substantial run."

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