By the time faceoff arrives Saturday night, the New York Islanders could be as close to whole as they’ve been since an injury- and illness-filled stretch began more than a month ago.
But whether the Islanders are sending an almost-optimal roster on to the ice or not, head coach Barry Trotz knows it’s time to start winning games.
The Islanders will look to snap their record losing streak at their new home Saturday night, when they host the New Jersey Devils in a battle of struggling rivals in Elmont, N.Y.
The Islanders remained winless (0-7) at UBS Arena Thursday night, when the Nashville Predators scored twice in the final 7:29 — including the game-winner by Eeli Tolvanen with 11.5 seconds left — to edge New York 4-3. The Devils will be completing a back-to-back set after falling Friday to Nashville, 3-2, in Newark, N.J.
The 12th loss in 13 games (1-9-3) for the Islanders might have been the most painful defeat of a skid that’s turned a promising season into a nightmare. New York took a 3-2 lead — its first third-period lead at UBS Arena — on Noah Dobson’s goal with 14:52 left, but Yakov Trenin scored for the Predators before a Dobson turnover led to Tolvanen’s redirected game-winner.
On Friday, Trotz acknowledged the Islanders — who had eight players sidelined with COVID-19 and also lost leading scorer Brock Nelson and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Pulock to lower-body injuries in November — have run into some rotten luck and might be at the point of trying too hard to make some breaks. But he also made it clear the time for excuse-making is in the rearview mirror.
“We’ve got to be professional about it,” Trotz said. “Man up and let’s just win.”
The task could get easier Saturday for the Islanders, who may have both Nelson and Casey Cizikas — the last of the players to emerge from COVID-19 protocols — back against the Devils. Both players skated Friday. Nelson has missed the last seven games but still leads New York with nine goals while Cizikas centers the fourth line, dubbed the “Identity Line” for its ability to set a tone during back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals the previous two seasons.
While the Devils continued showing some progress on the defensive end Friday, they’ll arrive Saturday almost as badly in need of a win as the Islanders. New Jersey has lost 10 of 13 (3-7-3), a span in which it hasn’t posted back-to-back wins.
The Devils allowed 24 goals over five games from Nov. 26 through Dec. 3 before surrendering a total of just two regulation goals in their two games entering Friday. They blanked the Predators for more than 33 minutes before Nashville scored three times in a 13-minute span bridging the last two periods.
“I feel like we were skating well, had a pretty good first period, but we got a little bit loose in certain areas and they scored right away,” Devils center Nico Hischier said. “It’s a tough one, but we have to buckle up. Just little mistakes — those little details we’re talking about can cost us a game.”
–Field Level Media