The Islanders may have avoided a larger COVID-19 issue.
With Jean-Gabriel Pageau being cleared on Monday, only defenseman Noah Dobson remained on the NHL’s daily COVID protocol list.
Both sat out Sunday’s 3-2, four-round shootout win over the Devils at the Prudential Center after being put on the league’s list that day, marking the first time this season the Islanders have had multiple players miss playing time because of COVID protocols. Josh Bailey was on the list a day (Jan. 20) for contact tracing reasons.
Pageau likely will be available when the East Division-leading Islanders conclude a three-game road trip against the second-place Capitals on Tuesday night. The return of the versatile Pageau, who centers the third line, double-shifts to take important faceoffs and plays on both the power play and the penalty kill, will help the Islanders as their schedule becomes more difficult.
The Islanders (19-6-4) have won nine straight and are on an 11-0-1 run, but they have played seven of the last eight games against the Devils, in a 2-10-2 skid, and the last-place Sabres. They will play the next 12 games against the playoff-contending Capitals, Flyers, Bruins and Penguins.
Still, they have gone 16-2-4 since blowing a three-goal first-period lead in a 6-3 loss in Washington on Jan. 28.
The Capitals swept that two-game series after beating the Islanders, 3-2, on Jan. 26 as Justin Schultz scored with 26.4 seconds left. The Capitals played those two games with captain Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, goalie Ilya Samsonov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov on the COVID protocol list.
If Dobson misses a second straight game, Sebastian Aho likely will remain in the Islanders’ lineup.
Aho logged 10:38 and had an assist on Sunday in his first NHL game since March 18, 2018. He was part of a frenetic scene right before the opening faceoff after the Islanders learned that Dobson, who had taken pregame warmups, would be unavailable. Aho already had taken off his equipment after participating in the pregame warmups and the Islanders started the game one player short as Aho rushed to get his gear back on and join the team on the bench.
"That was a lot of fun," Aho said. "I haven’t played hockey in pretty much a year, so it was different. I felt OK. I made some good plays, some not so good plays. But that’s to be expected overall."
Aho has been on the roster all season without playing. He must clear waivers to be reassigned either to the taxi squad or to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, and the organization does not want to risk losing the 25-year-old, selected in the fifth round in 2017. He has patiently waited his turn.
Asked what keeps him motivated, Aho said, "Nights like this, when you get to play. We all want to get out there but, unfortunately, we can’t all play all the time. I’m just trying to stay ready when my chance comes."
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