It’s been an interesting week for the Islanders to say the least.
After Sunday night’s 4-3 overtime loss in Philadelphia, the Islanders returned home after dropping all five games on their road trip. They were supposed to welcome the Buffalo Sabres to the Nassau Coliseum for games on Tuesday and Thursday, but those contests were postponed because of the NHL health and safety protocols as a result of the Devils’ Covid-19 outbreak that apparently made its way to the Sabres.
So, when Tuesday’s game was postponed, the Islanders had a practice instead and then later in the day the NHL announced that Thursday’s game would be postponed as well. The rest of the week for the Islanders featured a practice on Wednesday, an off day on Thursday, and then another practice on Friday in advance of Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum.
“Obviously, it’s been a different week,” said Islanders forward Michael Dal Colle. “We didn’t know we weren’t playing until the of the scheduled game against the Sabres. The layout has been different. We’ve gotten a couple of good practices in this week so we should be ready to go.”
While the Islanders would have preferred to play games, the additional practice time could turn out to be a blessing. The Isles were able to spend some extra time this week working on special teams including a struggling power play that is operating at 15.8% having converted on just 6 out of 38 opportunities. The Islanders’ failure to capitalize on the power play is a huge reason why they have lost five straight sending them to the basement of the East Division.
“We gotta make an adjustment,” said Islanders forward Mat Barzal. “It’s a little bit on me because I thought I tried to do a little too much at times. It’s gotta be a five-man breakout. It’s coming together.”
While the power play has not been clicking, including giving up too many shorthanded chances by the opposition, the penalty killing unit, operating at 77.8%, has also sprung a few leaks here and there which is uncharacteristic of the Islanders over the last couple of years. So, while the power play was in dire need of adjustments, there was also an overall attention paid to special teams in general at practice this week.
“We have to get everybody to have the same philosophy,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “You gotta be on the same page in terms of philosophy. I think there’s gotta be a little conceptual acceptance by everybody. Once that happens, you have a chance to grow together and you can create off of that.”
With a record of 3-4-2, the Islanders have just eight points this season, but they sit just three points back of their next opponent, the Penguins, for the 4th and final playoff spot in the East. It’s been a week where the Islanders went from reeling following their road trip to having a sort of a chance to hit control-alt-delete, take a deep breath, and make some corrections at practice this week.
It wasn’t the week that the Islanders expected, but they tried to turn a negative into a positive.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t really have control over it so you just make the most of it,” said forward Josh Bailey. “We were able to get some good practice in and also have some time to rest. Even though it’s only been nine games you try to take advantage of that. Looking forward to playing again (Saturday).”
The Islanders have certainly hit a rough patch after they had won three of their first four games of the season, but now they hope to get things turned around after five days without playing a game. With every game in this Covid-19 shortened 56-game season being played completely within the division, every game is a four-point game so the ground that the Islanders lost during the road trip can certainly be made up in a short amount of time.
With home games against the Penguins on Saturday and Thursday sandwiched around a road game against the Rangers on Monday, the next few days could be critical for an Islanders team that is trying to re-capture the magic that they had in the playoff bubble last season.