On the ice, at least — even if that ice is brand new — it all seems to be going wrong for the Islanders.
Back-to-back losses to the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs to open up their brand-new home at UBS Arena has extended the Islanders’ losing streak to six games, creating an early last-place hole in the Metropolitan Division.
Following a 13-game road trip to start the season — the second-longest such swing in NHL history — the Islanders came home to COVID issues.
Just before their long-anticipated home opener, key veterans in forwards Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier, along with defensemen Adam Pelech and Andy Greene, entered COVID protocols.
Bailey is still in Florida, where he initially tested positive following a loss to the Panthers while Beauvillier’s results yielded a false positive, allowing him to return on Sunday night against Toronto.
All this while they also lost their other top defenseman in Ryan Pulock to a lower-body injury for four-to-six weeks.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re not looking for excuses. We get it. We’re just trying to win a hockey game.”
That’s not such an easy thing to do when half of the defense is out along with the team’s captain in Lee and the longest-tenured playmaker in Bailey.
The Islanders have mustered just two goals — both from Brock Nelson on Saturday against Calgary — in their first two games at UBS Arena as the offense looked tame and the power play was hesitant; especially during Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs that saw New York yield the shorthanded opener while on a 4-on-3 man advantage.
“We have to execute. That’s on them a little bit,” Trotz said. “Make sure we execute and see if we can get something going here.
“It seems when we think we’re going to get something going our way, it hasn’t been. It’s been difficult, no question.”
Due to their sporadic schedule, the Islanders have played fewer games than six of the seven other teams in the Metropolitan Division, but their losing streak already has them 16 points back of the first-place Carolina Hurricanes and six points back of the seventh-place Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We have our games in hand on a lot of teams,” Trotz said while discussing his team’s philosophy while looking at the early standings. “It’s difficult sometimes when you look at the teams that are leading the division. They’re so far ahead you almost have to look at the wild card teams because there’s some separation there.
“We have to win some of our games at hand. if we don’t, the runway gets shorter and shorter and it gets more difficult.”
They have an opportunity to make some of that ground up in the next week as their next four games come against division opponents: An Elmont and Manhattan split against the Rangers on Wednesday and Sunday along with home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Friday) and Philadelphia Flyers (Nov. 30).
“Those are huge games,” Trotz admitted. “We have to find a way to get on track. We’re just focusing on getting a win here.”
No need to hit the panic button, yet.
“I don’t think we’re concerned,” forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. “We obviously know what we’re into with that group of guys. We’ve been through a lot in the last two years. A lot of adversity… We have to keep pushing together. The only way we can get out of it is together and with this group of guys, we’re a solid group and I know there’s a lot of character and I know we can get out of it for sure.”