The N.H.L. The NHL season has been ongoing for more than a year and the Islanders have spent more time at Chicago restaurants than on their home ice. They spent more time in Winnipeg’s penalty area than they have in their own locker room.
They have skated in 12 cities, four different time zones, and two other countries, flown in every direction according to the compass, and been billeted in more than a dozen hotels throughout the continent. They had done all that, and they still hadn’t played at home.
It is not over.
The Islanders won one more road game in Florida on Tuesday after playing 12 consecutive games. It is the second-longest consecutive road game stretch in N.H.L. history and the longest to start a season — a unique challenge for players, coaches, equipment managers, traveling secretaries and forlorn fans.
“It’s different,” Casey Cizikas, the team’s veteran center, said. “Last year our longest flight was just over an hour. This year we are doing a lot more traveling and playing different teams, so there’s a lot of unfamiliarity there.”
It has been so long since the Islanders last played a home game that it’s hard to remember where home is. It’s kind of everywhere for a few more days.
Because the Islanders were moving into a new arena at Elmont, N.Y., it was necessary to schedule it in a way that would allow for extra time. Months ago, when it became clear that construction would continue past October, the N.H.L.’s traditional opening month, the Islanders asked the league to make accommodations.
The equipment bags were loaded, and the Islanders were sent to North America. There, they would perform almost exclusively in arenas that they hadn’t seen in more than a year in front of mostly hostile fans.
“It’s obviously not ideal,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “You want to play in front of your own fans, too.”
That will finally happen on Saturday, against the Calgary Flames, at the Islanders’ new home, UBS Arena, nearly six weeks after the first puck of the season was dropped.
The Islanders will have played a third their road schedule by then against 12 teams that they didn’t see in the 2021 season. This was due to the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in the season being shortened and restructured.
They have gone 5-7 during the stretch, including Monday night’s 4-1 loss against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and the remaining game in this 13-game road trip is against the Florida Panthers, one of the best teams in the league.
There have been no complaints from the public and the team even sees the value of time together on the road to open a long-term season. The schedule, which is long and has many days off, could have been worse, the players know.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “It takes a toll on you mentally and physically to travel and play. But we’ve done a pretty good job so far. There are still some games to go. It just means we’re going to have more games at home down the stretch, later in the year, which is a positive.”
The 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks were the only team to play consecutively more games on the road. They were effectively kicked out of town for 14 games due to the Winter Olympics, which took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, from February 12 to 28, 2010. It was actually two trips, separated by a vacation for the Canucks.
They then went on the road for eight more games. The N.H.L. followed. Then the N.H.L. had a few weeks off. Andrew Raycroft, a Canucks goalie at the time, stated that he and approximately half of the team went to Hawaii, and the other half to Mexico.
They met up in Ohio for a 4-day camp, then played six more road games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They finished the trip at 8-6 and lost to Chicago in the playoffs.
“The first part was fun, but the second half of it really started to drag,” Raycroft, now an analyst for Boston Bruins broadcasts, said. “But we got better through the whole process. That’s when you really become a team.”
Raycroft recalled the team-bonding events of the trips, including a boisterous trip after a win at Toronto, a fishing trip, and a Florida golf day.
The Islanders had enough room in their schedule to break the long stretch into separate trips. They also spent a lot of time in their homes and practiced many times at their East Meadow facility.
The Raleigh, N.C., Miami, and Chicago started the longest leg. They enjoyed a huge team dinner in Chicago, and won their first game of this season there. They then made their way to Columbus, Ohio, before continuing on to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and finally to Columbus, Ohio.
After that, there was only one scheduled game over the next ten days (an overtime loss against the Nashville Predators), which turned into a trip all its own.
Four days after that game, the team played in Montreal, where Barry Trotz, the Isles’ coach, met a friend for dinner for the first time in months.
“That was like my third time in a restaurant since the pandemic started,” Trotz said. “I mean, strange. But it actually felt a little bit normal.”
The last time the Islanders were in Canada was March 2020.
After beating the Canadiens on Nov. 6, the Islanders flew from Montreal to Winnipeg, Manitoba to beat the Jets on November 6. They began to look like last season’s Lightning team, which won seven of the conference finals. They haven’t won since then.
They had their closest encounter with a home match on Thursday when they played the Devils in Newark (N.J.). About half of the Prudential Center fans were Islanders supporters, eager to see their team live. The Islanders treated it as a road game and stayed the night in a New Jersey hotel the night before. They lost 4-0 to fall below.500.
Raycroft stated that the Islanders would benefit from the long road trip. The team is mainly made up of players who have been together for several years, including a deep playoff run in last season and a stint at the end of 2020 in the bubble. However, the long time in away jerseys has allowed for opportunities for team bonding.
It is also important to note that 31 of their 46 home games will be played by the Islanders after they return from Florida. Raycroft stated that getting road games out the door early would give them a significant advantage against their divisional rivals.
“When I first saw that schedule I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a really long time before playing at home,’” Raycroft said. “It’s got to feel quite odd. But it’s going to help them in the long run.”
The Islanders will be playing nine of their final 14 road games. They will be able to do it.
Source: NY Times