The Islanders begin training camp on Monday with a new lease on the life of the 2019-20 season.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Barry Trotz’s men were on a monumental slide that pulled their postseason hopes into the abyss. After starting the season 16-3-1, the Islanders have gone 19-20-9 in their last 48 games dating back to November 23, sinking from top dogs in the East to fringe playoff side.
All the while, they were forced to deal with a litany of injuries, ranging from the once-perceived season-ending Achilles knock to top defenseman Adam Pelech to fourth-line center and team engine, Casey Cizikas, after being cut in the leg by a skate.
It’s important to note that nothing of good has come out of the harrowing spread of COVID-19, but the time off that came when the NHL was forced to suspend play allowed the Islanders to sneak into the playoffs and get healthy.
Because of an uneven amount of games, the Islanders playing a smaller portion of their schedule saw them ranked as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference based on point percentage rather than a ninth seed when play was stopped on March 12. It earned them a best-of-five qualifier meeting Aug. 1 against a Florida Panthers side they swept in three regular-season games this season.
If that doesn’t instill enough confidence, the fact that the Islanders are at full strength should.
Pelech is healthy and ready to play, which would have never happened if the season ran its normal course. His presence restores a defense that was the most staunch unit in the NHL last year and the early portions of 2019-20.
As for Cizikas’ return, he bolsters the Islanders’ center depth, which is an imposing unit given the three above him are Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
It remains to be seen if that will remedy the team’s scoring woes, however. Their goals per game ranked 12th of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, which played a large part in their elongated skid.
Regardless, a healthy Islanders squad could make noise in the postseason as they’ll return to their organized, structured roots under Trotz.
“With Adam’s injury and the length of time, he might be in the best shape. He’s had to rehab right through the summer and had to be on the ice. Same with Casey in getting back.” the Islanders’ head coach told reports via Zoom. “I expect that both of them will have a big impact like they usually do.”