After their second long break, the Islanders are set to return to action on Thursday night. They’ll host the rival New Jersey Devils for the second time at UBS Arena. This game begins a stretch of four straight games against other Metropolitan Division teams for the Islanders. With a game against the third-place Washington Capitals looming on Saturday, the Islanders will be hoping to build momentum with a strong win in their return.
Covid Issues Galore
Remember when the NHL profusely refused to cancel Islanders games? Now the Islanders can’t seem to play any of their scheduled games. In fact, eight of their last 11 scheduled games have been postponed to a later date. Even this contest seems like a close call, with New Jersey’s scheduled game on Monday being postponed to a later date. They had nine players on the protocol list, but seem to be getting a little bit healthier. Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich and Andreas Johnsson were activated off of the protocol and are expected to play. However, they still have six regulars in protocol, and added two more on Wednesday. Starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood tested positive for the virus, with fellow goalie Akira Schmid joining him in protocols. This leaves backup Jon Gillies as the only healthy goalie, and the surefire starter for the Devils on Thursday.
The Islanders also enter with some COVID problems, with head coach Barry Trotz and Ryan Pulock entering protocols. Lane Lambert will take over for the Islanders as head coach as he did for the last game for the Oilers. With Pulock already out due to injury, this likely won’t affect any of the lineup regulars. Of course, these situations are always fluid and ever-changing so it’s worth monitoring until the day of.
A Well Rested Islanders Team
The long break has given the Islanders plenty of time to energize for this matchup. This reigns especially true for Brock Nelson and Oliver Wahlstrom, who were in COVID protocols for the last game played. Now the Islanders will have a full, healthy lineup when they take the ice. The only real concern is the concern of rust after playing only three times in the last three weeks. And while this is difficult, the Islanders are riding a wave of strong play in the games they have played. They made relatively easy work of the Sabres and played a great overall game in defeating the Oilers. It’s also worth mentioning that they did this without some key players in their starting lineup. The back-to-back wins and the return of their regulars should help the Islanders return to play without missing a beat.
Keys to Winning the Game
For the Islanders to win this game, they have to take advantage of the Devils being short-handed. They’re still without star defenseman Dougie Hamilton and their leading point scorer Jesper Bratt. In addition, their starting goalie Jon Gillies has played in only two games since 2017-18 and allowed three goals in both. This feels a lot like the game that landed the Islanders their first win at UBS Arena. The Devils were short-handed in that game too, and started a goalie nowhere near the talent level of Mackenzie Blackwood.
With this in mind, the offense has to capitalize on their opportunities and score three to four goals. On the defensive end, the Islanders have to focus on stopping Jack Hughes, who’s riding a five-game point streak. They did a relatively good job at this with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, holding them to a point each. Replicating the defensive performance that held the Oilers to just 19 shots should do the trick in staving off their offensive attack. Overall, this is a game that the Islanders could and should win. They have a significant advantage in being healthy and rested and need to pick up these two points in their quest to crawl back from the bottom of the standings. A strong return game to get the Islanders to three straight wins will be huge in gaining momentum and shaking off their rust.
Featured image courtesy of Barclays Center
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