Towards the end of the New York Islanders 4-3 shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday, the NHL announced the postponement of all games involving cross-border travel.
That includes the Islanders’ upcoming contest against the Montreal Canadiens slated for Monday night.
With talks regarding a potential league-wide shutdown, the NHL has decided to allow the teams that can continue to play their schedule the ability to do so.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz believes that this method is the right game plan going forward as the league does what it can to combat the growing number of cases without having to shut down entirely.
“I think if you can play on, you play on,” Trotz said. “No one felt sorry for us when we had all the COVID cases and there are some teams that are going to luck out a little bit because of the Christmas break and get shut down early. Us and Ottawa were the guinea pigs at the start to sort of get some data on all of this.”
On Nov. 16, the Ottawa Senators’ season was paused after ten players were forced to sit out due to COVID-19 protocols. The decision was made out of an “abundance of caution” as medical officials deemed there was a continued spread within the organization.
In a different set of procedures, the Islanders’ season went on.
The Islanders home-opener on Nov. 20, the first-ever game at UBS Arena was played, despite seven players in protocol.
The NHL only decided to put the Islanders’ season on pause eight days later on Nov. 27, when their COVID list reached eight players, with no signs of the spread coming to an end.
The Islanders failed to pick up a point in the four games they were forced to play shorthanded, which stretched their regulation losing streak to eight games.
The five-day shutdown paid off as the Islanders overcame their COVID woes and got back to playing with a much healthier lineup. In their first game back following the pause, the Islanders snapped that regulation losing streak, as they picked up a point in an overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 2.
The Islanders lost their next two games in overtime before seeing their 11-game losing streak come to a close following a win against Ottawa on Dec. 7.
While their COVID situation was not entirely the reason for the lack of points over those four games, the inability to ice a competitive team played a part in the hole the Islanders now find themselves in, in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Despite the positives that came with the shutdown, those games missed will need to be made up. If the NHL chooses to go that route again on a league-wide basis, the Islanders will have a jam-packed schedule in the second half of the season.
“You shut us down, we are going to end up playing 23 games in 30 nights,” Trotz said. “That’s not fair to the athletes. It’s not fair to the league. It’s not fair to the fans so the league’s doing what’s right. They keep the teams going that are capable of going. Keep them going.”
“Let’s keep playing hockey.”
The Islanders, despite not being hit as hard as they were earlier in the season, are still dealing with at least one positive COVID case and potentially two more.
Prior to morning skate on Tuesday, Dec. 14, before a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Islanders forward Mat Barzal was placed in protocol. If Barzal remains in quarantine for the full 10 days, he will not be eligible to return until after the Christmas break.
Before taking the ice for morning skate on Sunday ahead of their game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Islanders placed forward Matt Martin and defenseman Robin Salo in protocol following inconclusive results.
“We had to make a decision because we weren’t getting the results back before the start of the game,” Trotz said. “There’s always a chance of a false positive.”
No announcement has been made yet regarding the status of the two players.
The Islanders as of late, have played more to the level that was expected of them, especially on home ice. Not being able to build on their recent performances is a negative, but not something the players or coaches have a say in.
“Obviously we love to play here in front of our fans and we feel good about our game, the past few games,” Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said following the news about the postponement. “It’s something that’s out of our control.”
“I’m sure they made the decision to make sure that everyone is safe with their family.”
The Islanders, barring no other league decisions, will next play at home Thursday, Dec. 23 against the Washington Capitals before a three-day Christmas break.
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