The New York Islanders aren’t sneaking up on anyone this season. They’re no longer afterthoughts in the league, but rather one of the NHL’s elite. That means more often than not, they’re going to get the very best out of each team they play, regardless of the opposition’s place in the standings.
What will make things all the more difficult as the puck drops on their 2021-22 season on Thursday night in Carolina against the Hurricanes is that the Islanders’ first 13 games of the campaign will be on the road as construction of their new home, UBS Arena, is completed.
It’s the second-longest road trip in NHL history, but the Islanders will try to lean on their experience of playing in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles during the 2020 postseason when play resumed from the COVID shutdown.
“What our experiences have been over the past two years do help us going into the road schedule because we’ve been somewhat used to it,” Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Wednesday. “The big difference is that we won’t be in one city for a period of time… we’ll have to adjust… look at the fatigue. But these are things we’ve talked about and we’ll do the best that we can.”
Lamoriello added that he’s looking at the trip with a “glass-half-full” outlook — a mindset that the rest of the team has adopted.
“You get those road games out of the way early, you’re going to get a lot of home action in the second half,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “We’re going to find a way in this group to have success. We’ve all experienced life on the road… We’ll make the best of it and get the rest while we can.”
Leaving from Republic Airport on Long Island, the total distance from arena to arena that the Islanders will travel over the 13-game stretch will be 12,571 miles.
“We have a tight-knit group, guys that can get together on days off, build some chemistry,” forward Brock Nelson added. “We’ll take it one day at a time and come up with a positive record on the other side.”
The NHL is giving the Islanders an opportunity to get that rest Pulock alluded to, even if there is a ton of traveling throughout. Those 13 games will be spaced out over 33 days — beginning with Carolina on Thursday, the Florida Panthers on Saturday, and the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Eight of those games will come against teams who made the playoffs last season.
“This group’s been really great. They’re not complainers. They understand that life is not always easy,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think going on the road will be good for us. We’ve been home for quite a while… it’s a good challenge.
“I look at the first three teams we’re playing. You have Carolina, Florida, and Chicago. You listen to all the people in the know and you talk about the strength of those teams, those should be good benchmark types of games… Hopefully, we have some success. We’re very capable of it.”