Barry Trotz likened this season for his Islanders to someone in a swimming pool.
After an 11-game losing streak from Nov. 7-Dec. 5, they were taking on water in the deep end as COVID sapped their ranks and began creating a chaotic schedule.
Then began the ascent.
With the roster almost back to 100% and finally jelling, the Islanders are showing the sort of form and resiliency that made them back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinalists.
A home-and-home sweep over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday and Tuesday nights brought the Islanders back to .500 (13-13-6) to continue a solid run in which they’ve gone 8-3-1 — collecting 19 of 24 possible points during that stretch.
“That’s a starting point,” Trotz said. “We have our nose just at the water level now and let’s see if we can climb our way out of the pool.”
A steep climb still awaits an Islanders squad that still sits at the very bottom of the eight-team Metropolitan Division. They’re 21 points behind the third-place Washington Capitals — who possess the final playoff spot in the division.
Even veteran forward Matt Martin admitted that he doesn’t look at the standings because “it would be a little more daunting than it necessarily is.”
The Islanders do have an advantageous schedule moving forward, though; even if it is compressed. Their next seven games — which comes over an 11-day stretch — come at home with only two of those matchups pitting them against teams that are currently in a playoff position.
“We have to do well on them just to give ourselves a chance,” Trotz said. “We’re looking up at the rest of the division.”
“It’s definitely big,” fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who scored his first two goals of the season in each of the last two games, added. “It puts us in a good position to keep moving forward and keep climbing those standings.”
Finally, a bit of consistency to a schedule that saw the Islanders play just twice over a 24-day span from Dec. 20-Jan. 12.
“I tell you, it’s been a really difficult year for us in particular because we feel like a part of the league and then we’re not,” Trotz said. “I describe it as we’re the independent college teams that were randomly playing and had all these breaks.
“Getting rhythm for us is really key. We have to make up some games so they’re going to be compressed. It’s a challenge, but I think this group is up to the challenge.”
The Islanders are next in action against Friday night against an Arizona Coyotes team that has won just nine of 37 games this season before a Saturday clash against the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s sink or swim time.