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Islanders Elongated Road Trip to Start Season Will Test the Team’s Character

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New York Islanders Barry Trotz

New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello jokingly (or not so jokingly) said that he took a long walk after the schedule came out, as he saw his team would start the first 13 games on the road.

No, the NHL doesn’t hate the Islanders, but with work still being done on UBS Arena, the league wanted to make sure that it gave the Islanders enough wiggle room for the building to be done before they hit the ice. Instead of opening their new barn in October, the Islanders and their fans will have to wait until Nov. 20 against the Calgary Flames to play the first game at UBS Arena.

The ensuing road trip will be the longest road trip to kick off a season in NHL history, playing four more games on the road than the New York Rangers had to during the renovation of Madison Square Garden in 2013-14.

“It’s going to be challenging, but we have to look at the glass half full,” Lamoriello said during a conference call with reporters on Saturday. “The arena will not be open until our opening date that we have scheduled, that’s a guaranteed date. There had to be some flexibility if there were a little bit of a delay. That really made a decision for the league. We had to be on the road because not only us starting late, but the preparation for the Olympics inclusive of an all-star game.

“I think all of us have difficult schedules, but ours certainly more difficult than most.”

The road trip, which begins on October 14 against the Carolina Hurricanes, ends more than a month later on November 16, following a game against the Florida Panthers. It will be a significant test for a franchise that has struggled to find consistency on the road over the last few seasons.

And the Islanders will have their work cut out for them.

Of the 12 teams the Islanders will battle against on their first road trip (play Florida twice in the first 13 games), eight of them participated in this past postseason. Six of those eight teams finished the 2020-21 regular season with more points than the Islanders.

That will make the challenging start to the 2021-22 season even more so, which could be an issue since the Islanders have relied on long point streaks in the first half of the season in the past to compensate for sluggish second halfs. Despite back-to-back trips to the semifinals, the Islanders have limped to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons.

The road was not too kind to the Islanders last when they went 11-13-4. It was the dominance at home that gave the Islanders a chance to partake in postseason festivities.

In 2019-20, their first 13 games brought success with a 10-3 record. However, only 5 of those games were on the road. They were 4-1 in those games and finished with a road record of 15-14-4 that season.

What’s clear is that the Islanders will need to be succesful on the road early to put themselves in a good spot later on in the seaason.

“We will have to schedule a little different,” Lamoriello said. “Training camp will be more important than ever as far as getting ourselves in shape. There will be less practice time that period of time because of the amount of traveling that has to be done, almost like when you’re playing in the playoffs.”

The Islanders struggles on the road factored into them not having home ice during the postseason last year. Pittsburgh, Washington and Boston — all of whom finished ahead of the Islanders — all had winning records on the road.

There is a break in the road trip late in October where the Islanders should be able to return home and spend time with their family. Following a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct 23, the Islanders have a few days before their game against the Predators in Nashville on Oct 30.

The break could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how the first five games go.

The good news is that 41 of the Islanders’ last 69 games will come on home ice. While the Islanders will no longer be on Nassau Coliseum ice, where they dominated last season (21-4-3), UBS Arena should provide a similar climate and lead to similar results.

The elongated road trip will test the true colors of this Islanders team. And if the Islanders can find a way to overcome the rigid beginning of the season, that could be the deciding factor come season’s end given the competitiveness of the division.

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