After two games were postponed due to a COVID outbreak that sidelined seven players, the New York Islanders are trending back toward normalcy.
The NHL announced that the Islanders have been given the green light to resume play, which began with Thursday night’s matchup at UBS Arena against the San Jose Sharks.
And with that came the return of some familiar faces — which surely provided a relief to the organization and its fans.
Six of the seven players who were placed in COVID protocols — Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene, Ross Johnston, and Kieffer Bellows — skated with the Islanders on Wednesday and Thursday in what was the team’s first action since a Friday loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“For the most part, I was asymptomatic thankfully,” Bailey, who was stuck in Florida for two weeks, said. “You knew it was a possibility throughout the season that if you tested positive on the road, that would be the case… it is what it is. Time went by a little slow, you wanted to be there helping the guys out.”
The Islanders needed all the help they could get after a four-game losing streak grew to eight after the team suddenly lost half of its skaters — whether that was due to COVID or injuries to top defenseman Ryan Pulock and second-line center Brock Nelson.
With 17 games played entering Thursday night — at least three games fewer than anyone else in their division — the Islanders sat 19 points out of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
“We’re just looking to build up day by day,” Lee, the captain, said. “There’s a lot of confidence in our group in who we are and who we should be… We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’re looking forward to this challenge. It’ll be tough to get out of, but certainly nothing insurmountable.”
Head coach Barry Trotz admitted that four of the six players who returned from COVID protocol will play immediately, regardless of any residual effects that could be lingering.
“We have to put them in,” Trotz said. “Their play [and the situation] will dictate how many minutes we can give them… It’s not like baseball where it’s ‘this guy can throw 60 pitches’… It doesn’t work that way.”