The Islanders have taken full advantage of their recent home-heavy slate.
After spending 12 of their first 17 games of the season on the road, the Islanders are eight games into a stretch that features nine of 10 matchups at Nassau Coliseum.
They’ve won seven of them and have recorded a point in all eight, going 7-0-1. Meanwhile, they’ve extended a home point streak dating back to last year to 13 games, which is tied for the sixth-longest stretch in franchise history.
“This is our ice, this is our home,” Islanders center Casey Cizikas said. “We want to put our best game forward… When [opponents] come here, they know it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Granted, five of those games have come against the Buffalo Sabres — including a recent three-game sweep at the Coliseum — and New Jersey Devils; two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. But the return home has helped get the Islanders back on track after a slow start in which they were 3-4-2 through the first nine games of the season.
“There’s a comfort in being at home,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s a sense of life being a little bit normal by being at home. You can drive to the rink. You’re not sequestered at the hotel for a long time. It’s a mental break for the players.”
Now with the halfway point of the 56-game 2021 season approaching, the Islanders sit atop the Eastern Division with 34 points through 25 games. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have more points than the Islanders in the entire NHL.
With two games left on this home-heavy portion of the schedule, the Islanders host the second-place Boston Bruins — who they’ve already beaten three times out of three this season — which will be their last game with no fans before welcoming 1,000 healthcare workers on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils.
Playing all this time with no fans makes the Islanders’ recent successful run all the more remarkable considering there hasn’t been much in the building to feed of.
We played a lot of games in the bubble [last season] which has to help us a little bit,” Trotz said. “Even though it was the playoffs, it still must help us a little bit. We’re used to it now. We’re almost close to 60 games of that.
“So I think this is a veteran team with a lot of belief. They like each other, the game, the competition. There are a lot of competitive people which is what you need when there are no fans in the building.”
After Thursday’s game in front of those healthcare workers, who will be guests of the Islanders, season-ticket holders and the general public will be allowed to fill 10% of the arena — roughly 1,400 seats, beginning with their next home game on Mar. 18 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It will be nice, it really will,” Trotz said. “There’s an energy that the fans bring to the players… that you can’t replicate. I know the NHL and TV is doing a great job providing that, but the in-rink experience will be needed for the players.”