The release of the NHL schedule July 22 yielded some immediate daydreaming about the New York Islanders’ first home game against the New York Rangers at the brand-new UBS Arena.
Imagine the electricity generated by two longtime rivals, both entering the season with playoffs-or-bust expectations, trying to establish a tone with one another in the first of four meetings between the teams — all with the libations and good cheer flowing among the fans of both teams seated in the 17,250-seat arena on Thanksgiving Eve.
But just four months later, the daydream has turned nightmarish for the Islanders, who will merely hope they have enough players to take the ice in Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers at Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams have been off since playing at home Sunday night, when the undermanned and bedraggled Islanders absorbed their sixth straight regulation defeat with a 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers’ surge continued when Ryan Lindgren scored the game-winning goal in the final second of a 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The two days between games provided barely any respite for the Islanders, whose losing streak is the franchise’s longest since a six-game skid from Dec. 2-13, 2010.
The Islanders, who had six players in COVID-19 protocols on Sunday, added defenseman Zdeno Chara to the list Tuesday. Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said the others in the protocol — Josh Bailey, Kieffer Bellows, Andy Greene, Ross Johnston, Anders Lee and Adam Pelech — have yet to produce a negative test required to return.
The only NHL team to have games postponed this season due to a COVID-19 outbreak is the Ottawa Senators, who had 10 players and assistant coach Jack Capuano in protocols when the NHL postponed three games last week.
“We are preparing to play unless we hear otherwise,” Lamoriello said.
In addition, Lamoriello said leading scorer Brock Nelson will be out two to four weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Sunday night. Nelson has played in the Islanders’ last 316 games, the second-longest streak in franchise history.
At 5-8-2, the Islanders are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and eight points out of a wild card spot entering Tuesday. New York lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL conference finals each of the last two seasons.
“We can’t do anything about that and what those results were,” Lamoriello said. “All we can do is focus in on today and get ready for (Wednesday).”
Readiness shouldn’t be an issue for the Rangers, who have won five of six (5-1-0) to jump into third place in the Metropolitan Division. Four of the wins have been by a goal — none more dramatic than Sunday’s victory, when Lindgren became just the fourth player in franchise history to score the game-winning goal in the final second and the first since Brad Richards on Dec. 17, 2011.
Lindgren’s last-second goal — officially recorded with 0.7 seconds left — capped the third one-goal comeback of the game for the Rangers, who also squandered a 3-2 lead 50 seconds after Kaapo Kakko scored at the 12:07 mark of the second.
“We were sloppy in the second period, didn’t get off to a great start in the first period either, but it’s one of those games,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “But we found a way to get two points at the end.”
–Field Level Media