The New York Islanders have had their fair share of breaks already this season. During the 13-game road trip, the Islanders had five days off between game six and game seven, a five-day break from game seven to game eight, and then a five-day shutdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the organization.
Just as the Islanders looked to be turning a page after a shootout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 19, COVID-19 forced a few postponements before a league-wide decision was made to start the Christmas break a day early. That decision was followed by another decision to have the regular-season schedule resume no earlier than this upcoming Wednesday.
“We’ve had so many breaks here right now I don’t know when the season started for us really,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said on Monday. ”
“I do like the fact that everybody’s back you know no one’s played in roughly week, eight, nine days so that feels more realistic if you will than what we’ve gone through.”
The stopping and starting hurt the Islanders’ ability to get into a rhythm and has played a role in the Islanders’ current situation in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Although all these breaks seem like a negative for the organization right now, the Islanders have played the least amount of games in the NHL, with just 26. These breaks have given the Islanders the ability to be as healthy as can be for what will be a busy second half of the season, with scheduled games and postponed games.
This does not just have to do with COVID-19 but also getting injured players back.
On Monday, the CDC announced new rules that undoubtedly benefit the NHL’s U.S.-based teams, if they follow suit.
If the #NHL decides to follow new CDC rules, asymptomatic players only need to remain in COVID-19 for five days.
The #Isles added four players to protocol on Sunday and if they are asymptomatic, that would mean they could be out of quarantine on Friday.
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) December 27, 2021
On Sunday, the Islanders placed Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise, and Oliver Wahlstrom in COVID protocol.
Rather than seeing these players miss four games while in the mandated 10-day isolation protocol, the new rules (if asymptomatic) are implemented, those players would only miss two games.
Beauvillier was starting to heat up before the latest shutdown, with Wahlstrom playing his best hockey to date. Clutterbuck’s work ethic and production had allowed the Islanders’ fourth line to play to their identity and Parise had been playing a strong brand of hockey despite the lack of points.
The Islanders also have two important players sidelined with injuries.
Islanders’ top-pairing defenseman, Ryan Pulock, has been out for quite some time with a lower-body injury sustained against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 15. While the prognosis was 4-6 weeks, there has been zero rush on the part of the medical staff given the extent of the injury, which appeared to be a fracture.
Also on Sunday, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello told the media that Pulock was skating on his own, with no timetable to return. With Pulock skating, his return could be somewhere in mid-January. The Islanders have had depth step up in his absence, but the sooner they can get their top-flight defenseman back, the more dynamic the team becomes.
Forward Kyle Palmieri has been missing since the third period against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 16 due to a lower-body injury. He did not skate before the Christmas break, and on Monday, Trotz stated that Palmieri was finally back on the ice but had skated on his own.
Given his struggles this season, with just one goal and six assists in 27 games, this break can only help.
We have seen injuries to key pieces of the Islanders’ roster drastically impact their ability to play to the level they are capable of.
In 2019-20, the Islanders saw top defenseman Adam Pelech fall victim to a torn Achilles, which kept him out for what should have been the rest of the season and playoffs. Due to the first-ever COVID-19 shutdown, the Islanders got Pelech back and went on a magical run to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993.
In 2020-21, Islanders captain Anders Lee tore his ACL, and the Islanders struggled to secure a playoff spot come season’s end. But due to COVID and the divisional realignments, point percentage got the Islanders into the postseason, where they fell in Game 7 of the Semi-Finals.
Unless there is another COVID shutdown, the Islanders should have a steady schedule from now until the end of the season. With the Islanders currently 11 points out of a wild-card spot, getting through the rest of the season as healthy as possible, and taking advantage of games at hand due to breaks, is crucial.