By now, the Islanders are used to the chaos.
Strictly speaking, it doesn’t quite make sense for them to have played 13 games on the road to start the season, then leave Long Island just four more times before the All-Star break, then spend most of February on the road. Playing the first half of the season with frequent week-long breaks between games before a second half in which they’ll play nearly every other day isn’t ideal either.
But neither was the NHL bubble in 2020 or the condensed schedule last season.
“I think the way the schedules have gone, really this has all started almost a couple years ago now,” Anders Lee said before the Islanders’ 4-0 victory over the visiting Coyotes. “We’re so used to having to adjust and having to take what’s given in regards to the schedule, you just gotta take advantage of the time at home.”
Head coach Barry Trotz said the team has had “a number of different little mini training camps” to cope with the breaks, as he’s tried to keep things from going stale.
“Maybe the same thing with an angle to it,” Trotz said. “It’s still a boy’s game, so we gotta make it fun, but we have the demand of a professional game as well. Trying to get that balance.”
The Islanders will face the opposite problem for the rest of the season. They play seven games in 12 days before the All-Star break, and upon returning, will have consecutive days off only five times for the rest of the season. They also will play 12 back-to-backs, including Friday and Saturday against the Coyotes and Maple Leafs.
“Take it a period at a time, a game at a time,” Lee said of the mindset. “Focus on Arizona [on Friday]. Do our best to take care of business and then we’ll get after it, move on.”
Cliché as it is, that mindset has worked for the Islanders. Under Trotz, the team is 23-7-5 on the back end of back-to-backs, per team statistician Eric Hornick.
After reaching .500 by sweeping the Flyers in a back-to-back earlier in the week, the Islanders were looking to hit another milestone Friday: getting out of last place.
“It’s like when you go on this long hike and you try to climb a mountain or get over to your final destination,” Trotz said. “There’s a certain point in time when it feels like it’s taking forever, then all the sudden you get over a ridge and it changes your perspective.”
Oliver Wahlstrom didn’t play in the third period after blocking consecutive shots towards the end of the second. Casey Cizikas also missed time after sustaining a cut above his eye. Trotz said both were fine, adding that it was a “coach’s decision” that Wahlstrom didn’t play in the third.
Kieffer Bellows was a healthy scratch. Austin Czarnik played on the top line with Mathew Barzal and Lee, with Zach Parise moved back to the third line.
Ryan Pulock and Kyle Palmieri are both day-to-day, per Trotz.
Friday was the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Islanders’ franchise-record 15-game win streak, a 6-1 victory over the Penguins on Jan. 21, 1982.