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For New York Islanders, Playoffs are Now if They Hope to Dig Out of Early Hole

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New York Islanders
Photo Credit: Peter Schwartz

The New York Islanders are well aware of the current situation they’ve found themselves in. Already struggling before COVID hit the team and decimated the Isles’ roster, they now have a massive hole to dig out of to try and get back into the playoff picture.

The Islanders took the ice on Wednesday for the first time since their season had to be paused because of the number of positive COVID cases on the team. Back were five players that had previously been in COVID protocol, including captain Anders Lee and defenseman Adam Pelech.

Josh Bailey, Ross Johnston and Andy Greene were also out of protocol.

The return of those players means the push is on for New York to salvage the season before dire straits become a point of no return for their playoff aspirations. The New York Islanders had dropped eight straight games before the NHL paused their schedule and they’re 13 points back of the final Wild Card spot in the East.

“We have to just start with one step,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Start playing, start playing together and hopefully we can start doing that with our people. We haven’t had our people for four games at least here and the four games before we had most of our people, and there’s no excuse. …  We put ourselves into that position without realizing COVID was around the corner.

“We didn’t see that train coming, but it’s here. We have to pick up the pieces and go forward.”

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The New York Islanders are certainly facing a daunting task ahead of them, starting with a game against the San Jose Sharks. Coincidentally, they too went through their own COVID outbreak in November, but didn’t have their season paused.

The Islanders are trying to keep a level head about the task at hand and are focused on taking things one game at a time.

“We’re just looking to build off day by day,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of confidence in our group in who we are and who we should be on the ice. It’s evident that we haven’t been the same to where we want to be. We’re going to take it day by day, game by game and not get ahead of ourselves. Looking forward to this challenge. It’s going to be difficult to get out of, but it’s not insurmountable or anything like that.

“There’s a lot of hockey left to be played and our best hockey is in front of us.”

The Islanders will need to be at their best for their current slump to end and for their fortunes to change. And they won’t be getting much in the way of practice time for the return players to reacclimate to the lineup.

Trotz told reporters that four or possible all five of the players that returned from COVID protocol will be in the lineup for Thursday’s tilt with San Jose. There won’t be any restrictions on their playing time, but the circumstances in the game will determine how much time they get on the ice.

“Pretty (much) we have to put them in,” Trotz said. “I think their play and how we play will dictate how many minutes we’ll give them. I can’t set a plan, it’s not like baseball. … The game sort of dictates how many minutes, the situations dictate how many minutes and their play dictates how many minutes. I can tell you this, the guys that have been in COVID protocol, what they’ve been able to do on their own they’ve assured me they’ve been doing stuff.”

The road back into the playoff picture starts on Thursday and won’t come easy. Thursday kicks off a 19-day stretch when the Islanders play nearly every other night.

There are only two instances where the Islanders will have two days in between games and they have two sets of back-to-backs.

“Just getting to the playoffs is going to be tough enough and then trying to do something in the playoffs,” Trotz said. “Well, we’ve dug ourselves a hole. I said that our playoffs are sort of now. We’re not going to see the playoffs unless we’re digging in now.”

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