The New York Islanders went into 2023 on a three-game winning streak that had them sitting in a playoff spot. But instead of building on their game on a four-game road trip, they took a handful of strides back as they went 1-3-0, playing rather uninspiring hockey, and now find themselves out of a playoff spot.
But after two off days to reflect, regroup and relax, the New York Islanders are ready to turn the page and showcase a stronger brand of hockey in front of their fans as they kick off a five-game homestand on Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars.
That started with a strong, energy-infused Monday practice.
“Today, I think we feel pretty good, a lot more energy,” New York Islanders All-Star Brock Nelson told NYI Hockey Now. “I think if you’d ask the guys Saturday and Sunday it had been a different story, a different answer, but I think everybody’s excited.”
“It felt like we’ve been gone for quite some time over the last month, so it’s nice to get home…guys with families, obviously nice for me with kids to get back home and it’s fun to spend a weekend, a couple of days with them so nice recharge.”
We can discuss what went wrong on the road, with the slow starts obviously at the forefront, but I think we’ve done enough of that over the last week. Nothing we say can change what happened, and the focus has shifted.
“It’s massive,” Cizikas told NYI Hockey Now about the off time. “It’s our mentality. Our lives are so built around getting ready for the next day when we have a game. You have the game. You get home that night. You wind down, wake up the next day to prepare for the game the next day, and it’s a cycle where you just go through that over and over.”
“And when you have a couple of days like that to try to just unwind and hang with the kids, hang with your wife, and just have some fun at home and it makes a big difference.”
For Cizikas, he was thrown into a new position this road trip, playing alongside Mathew Barzal (sometimes center) and at times with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He had a blast doing it, and he did look like a natural.
“It was fun. I’m always up for new challenges. And that definitely presented one there,” Cizikas said. “It was different at the start, but once you get the hang of it, it all makes sense as a center, being in the right position for your wingers, because it’s not easy playing those walls once you get those pucks up there, so a new appreciation for it.”
As for what it was like to play with Barzal: “From my standpoint, it’s easy. Just be in the right position for him as an option and watch him just do his thing. That’s the best way I can put it. He dominates with the puck. He controls the pace so well.”
It was only a five-game trial, as Barzal missed Friday night’s 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames with a lower-body injury. And Cizikas was back in his fourth-line center role on Monday.
Martin expressed the importance to just reset and get back to their game in front of the UBS Arena crowd.
“It’s just good to reset a little. Obviously, the trip didn’t go the way we wanted it,” Martin said. “I think Lane [Lambert] said today that we’re .500 in our last 14 games. We’ve had some bumps and bruises, some key guys out. That’s not an excuse. We can be better. We know that.”
“To get home in front of our fans and kind of get re-energized is nice. But especially with two days off, kind of just refocus our brains.”
Like Nelson and Cizikas, Martin has two kids at home, one a newborn, so getting the opportunity to hang with the family is key.
“I think when you’re younger before you have a family, you just think about hockey all the time. If you have a bad game or whatever, you just kind of on the clock with it all the time, waiting for that next one,” Martin said. “And it’s really refreshing to be able to go home, and your kids are happy to see you. Your dogs are happy to see you. Everyone’s happy to see you and just to take two days to be with them and have some fun with them and then to come back to work today, I think it’s good for the mind.”
The fans can only hope it’s good for their performance in the upcoming homestand.