Saturday afternoon’s rough 5-0 loss to the Penguins put a dent in the Islanders’ quest to lock up a playoff berth and secure home ice. But as the minutes ticked down and that very same ice again devolved to chippy slush by the third period, it became clear that although the Isles would like nothing more than to play at home, home just isn’t all that welcoming these days.
With the exception of this week’s polar vortex, temperatures are going to continue to climb, meaning that keeping the Barclays Center ice in good condition through 60 minutes of high-intensity skating down the stretch and into the playoffs is going to become a significant challenge and a top priority.
A number of Islanders already have stated their displeasure with the conditions, and though coach Jack Capuano is loath to use the ice as an excuse, he did acknowledge that the team adjusts its play as the situation deteriorates.
“There are plays they would make normally at the offensive blue line that maybe you want to just get a puck in,” he said at practice this past week. “I don’t want to take away the guys’ creativity, but they understand . . . It’s not the only rink where it happens. There’s a lot of places, whether it’s humidity or something to do with the ice. I know they’re trying to do the best they can to make the ice the best for our team to play on.”
Kyle Okposo told the New York Post that the ice was “awful” and needs to change. Thomas Hickey and John Tavares added that it affected game play, and Hickey told The New York Times that it was “horrendous.”
SportsNet’s Damien Cox said Sunday that the NHL’s Dan Craig has been at Barc lays Center for days examining the issue.
A spokesman for Barclays Center said in a statement that the arena is “working closely with the National Hockey League and has installed a temporary dehumidification system, commonly used at arenas during warmer months.”
For now, the Islanders are trying to be adaptable, even if tough ice conditions lead to more stops and starts — which can take a toll on a team built around flow and speed, as they are.
“When it gets like that, you just have to play simple,” Johnny Boychuk said. “Pucks are always rolling off your stick, so if you can hustle . . . and move it up quickly to the forward, you’ll spend less time and less chance for it rolling on you.
“We should be doing the simple things anyway, so maybe it’s better that way.”
Still, control isn’t guaranteed. After a 4-3 win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night, Boychuk noted that the puck “was bouncing everywhere and at any moment, the puck could bounce over your stick and they could get a breakaway or something like that.”
When Capuano lauded Tavares after that game, he didn’t concentrate on his two goals as much as how the captain reacted when “the ice got a little sloppy again.”
“He didn’t try to overhandle the puck,” Capuano said. “He got pucks deep.”
If there is one advantage, it’s the one Brock Nelson pointed out. Namely: “We’re pretty used to it now at this point. Sometimes it’s a little chippy or a little off, but you can’t real ly blame the game or mistakes on that. “You’ve just to take care of individual play and not worry about the outside factors. Maybe that’s the way you have to change your game — play it safe. Maybe not stepping up here or there, but you still want to jump in the play and create offense.”
Notes & quotes: J-F Berube and Casey Cizikas didn’t practice with the team Sunday and will have to be evaluated before Monday night’s game against the Lightning. “This time of year, you have bumps and bruises,” Capuano said. “We’re hoping it’s not too serious.” . . . Although Capuano played defenseman Marek Zidlicky on Saturday, he said Sunday that it’s likely that 21-year-old Ryan Pulock will get the call Monday . . . Adam Pelech, who has been on IR since January with an undisclosed injury, is getting close to returning, Capuano said, adding that the final call will be made by general manager Garth Snow. Capuano said once Pelech is cleared, he’ll probably play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before rejoining the team.