It’s been a difficult season for New York Islanders fans, particularly the last month. No, the team hasn’t lost, and there weren’t any further injuries, the Islanders simply haven’t played many games. Continued postponements have created a lull for the team, but it could be the reason they’re able to turn things around in the remaining 54 games. Let’s dive into the latest news as the Islanders hit the ice in a long-anticipated return to play.
Islanders Roster Finally Healthy
After what feels like months of players in and out of the lineup, Ryan Pulock remains the only player out for the Islanders. However, it’s more than just recovering from an injury he suffered before Thanksgiving; he’s now on the team’s COVID-19 protocol list alongside head coach Barry Trotz.
But that’s just about the end of the bad news for the Islanders. They begin their schedule again after an 11-day break for a matchup with the New Jersey Devils (as of the writing of this article). The Devils have gone through their own COVID troubles as of late, leading to a postponement earlier this week, but all signs point to the Islanders and Devils facing off Thursday evening.
When they do, associate coach Lane Lambert, who is filling in for Trotz in his absence, will have some decisions to make up front. With Kyle Palmieri set to return, conversations about who he would replace in the lineup have some fans concerned, especially with Kieffer Bellows playing well as of late. Bellows has collected two goals and four points over the last three games, including an end-to-end goal against the Buffalo Sabres in late December.
Bellows’ has one more point than Palmieri even though he’s played 11 fewer games, not a great look for the Long Island native in Palmieri. It’s important to remember, however, that he played when the Islanders’ lineup was decimated, though some would argue it was his time to shine. For Bellows, he’s proven he belongs in the lineup for now and should be in over either Palmieri, Zach Parise, or Josh Bailey, all of whom he is outperforming as of late.
Parise may be out of the conversation on this one, considering he’s not necessarily in the lineup to score goals. Rather, he’s primarily there as a depth-defensive winger to kill penalties and add offense when he can, though even he’s mentioned the need for him to step up in that department. He’s also been one of the Islanders’ most consistent forwards despite his lack of production.
That leaves a Trotz favorite in Bailey. Veterans tend to have a longer leash than younger players, but Bellows has earned it. Still, Bailey is the unlikely culprit to find himself in the press box come Thursday. In the Islanders’ pre-game media availability on Dec. 30 against the Sabres, Trotz hinted that Palmieri may be the one on the outs when he returns from injury due to how others are playing in the lineup. This was before his two-point night against the Sabres and the continuation of his point streak against the Edmonton Oilers two days later. Will the coaching staff stick to their guns on Palmieri? We’ll have to wait and see.
Parise on digging out of the hole: “we’ve had some unfortunate things not to make an excuse. we’ve been dealt a difficult hand. You look at the team on paper the talent the work ethic of the group is unreal.”
Bailey on finally playing: “When the puck drops just try to get that first shift in. we’ve all been through it before. You use those experiences to draw on.”
Anders Lee on Barry Trotz: “Barry is such an empathetic guy himself. Always looking after everyone in this organization… a good family man. He’s been through a lot lately now… We know he’s itching to be back here and we’ll make sure we take care of business.”
While Palmieri’s return and the possible lineup changes are cause for conversation, the Islanders have plenty of forwards to help the team turn things around. Inconsistent seasons from a number of players on both ends of the ice have cost the team games. This will be the healthiest the team has been this season, and with 11 games before the All-Star break in February, there’s time to make up some ground, especially with their upcoming schedule. 10 of 11 of those are at home with games against the Ottawa Senators, Seattle Kraken, and Arizona Coyotes during that stretch. The Islanders also play the Philadelphia Flyers three times during this stretch, a team falling down the Metropolitan Division standings rapidly. The Islanders have some runway to make up points, but they need to start on Thursday.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.