Even Islanders head coach Barry Trotz took a moment to appreciate the vibrancy of his team’s locker room after Tuesday night’s victory over the Ottawa Senators.
The 5-3 result was the Islanders’ first win in over a month, snapping an 11-game losing streak that was tied for the fourth-longest in franchise history.
“It’s incredible to think what we’ve gone through in the last month,” Trotz said. “I’ve never gone through it. These guys have never gone through it. The way we stuck together and battled, I have to give them a lot of credit.”
The Islanders are coming out of the other side of a COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined as many as eight skaters at once. Only fourth-line center and identity-line engine Casey Cizikas is still in league protocol, which is a notable absence.
It threw New York’s early portion of the 2021-22 season in chaos. With top defenseman Ryan Pulock and second-line center Brock Nelson also out due to injury, the Islanders were missing 10 of their original 18 skaters from opening night — further fueling the lengthy losing streak.
While reinforcements have gradually returned, the Islanders gained points in three-straight games — all losses — before getting over the proverbial hump on Tuesday night in Ottawa.
“There’s a sense of relief,” Islanders captain Anders Lee, who was one of the eight on the COVID list, said after potting two goals in the win. “It’s been a tough stretch and we stuck together. We started building our game the last few nights… it starts to wear on you quite a bit… To get the win… that’s exactly what we needed.”
The Islanders now have points in four-straight games, taking five of a possible eight while attempting to gain some momentum to climb up the Metropolitan Division standings. They currently sit 18 points out of the third and final secured playoff spot in the division.
“We weren’t feeling great about ourselves but we were working,” Trotz said. “That’s the hard part. That’s the mental toughness that it takes to do anything. We dug ourselves a real big hole. We just have to keep digging ourselves out and at the end of the season, maybe we can look up and say ‘OK, we’re in [the playoffs]. Let’s dance.'”
The next task to check off their to-do list is finally win a game at UBS Arena. The Islanders are 0-for-6 at their new home and host the Nashville Predators on Thursday before a divisional matchup — and a chance to make up some ground — against a New Jersey Devils team that is currently six points ahead of them in sixth-place.
“We just have to grind it out,” Trotz said. “Next game, next game, next game, get some people back, and hopefully, we can string a couple wins here and maybe get ourselves back in the running a little bit.
“That’s how you get out of these long sort of streaks. We just have to collect points.”