Islanders see upcoming schedule as ‘blessing for us’


In the month spanning Dec. 12 to Jan. 12, the Islanders will play five games and have two 10-day stretches of nothing.

They already suffered from the schedule earlier in the season, starting things out with a 13-game road trip. And they already dealt with a handful of postponements, with a COVID-19 outbreak sidelining the team in late November. At least this time, they can spin it into a positive.

“You don’t ever get an opportunity to string together practices in January in an NHL season,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “Really, it’s kind of a blessing for us.”

Maybe it will be, especially if it means Ryan Pulock can play more games this season, or that Barry Trotz won’t miss more than some practice time while he deals with a personal issue. The Isles, as Clutterbuck pointed out, are an older team. Their experience will help them deal with the abnormality, and the extra rest and recovery doesn’t hurt either (though they’ll have to pay for it with more games further down the line).

This is, if nothing else, a group that’s well-practiced at keeping focus. When asked whether the Islanders had expected the league to reschedule games during the now-free week in which they were supposed to travel west, Clutterbuck responded: “If I was worried about rescheduling games for the league, I wouldn’t have any time to spend with my wife and kids.”

Cal Clutterbuck

“We’re pretty excited at the opportunity to work on stuff that we haven’t been able to work on because of the games and because we haven’t had a full group with injuries or COVID or whatever,” associate coach Lane Lambert said. “We’re in a pretty good situation from that standpoint. There’s things that we can work on now and use this time to our advantage that we’re doing because there won’t be a lot of practice time [later in the year].”

Still, this is the sort of thing that can go either way. The Islanders have played well in what limited games we’ve seen them play during the last two weeks. Their season can’t afford for that momentum to be slowed by another league-mandated break.

The margin for error, after such a disastrous start at home, has evaporated. And now they’ll need to do the best they can with what’s in front of them.

“If you have to stack together a couple practice days, then that’s what the routine is, and that’s what the mindset is,” Clutterbuck said. “And sure enough one of those days, you’ll look at the calendar and the game will be the next day. You’ll be prepared for that because of the routine that you’ve stuck with through the practice days and the ability to be professional through the whole thing.”

Kyle Palmieri and Brock Nelson practiced on Monday. Nelson cleared COVID-19 protocol.

It’s uncertain when Trotz will return to the team, Lambert said Monday. Trotz is out dealing with a personal issue, with the team learning about 90 minutes before Saturday’s game that he wouldn’t be with it.

Pulock (lower-body injury) has yet to return to practice and there is no timetable on his return.

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