Everything feels different around Islanders after win

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For the past month, the Islanders’ dressing room has been quiet after games. At home, they’ve seen the remarks on Twitter or TV. As the losses have piled up, it has bled into their play.

This group, which was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender, is 6-10-5 heading into the home game Thursday against the Predators. That’s a shock to the system, no matter how much bad luck has been involved. No one saw that coming. It has wore on the Islanders.

“This group takes a lot of pride in how we play and how we perform and where we’ve been,” Anders Lee said. “And this was a shock to us, and very tough mentally to grind out.”

Following the Islanders’ 5-3 win over the Senators on Tuesday, coach Barry Trotz finally got to address something positive after four weeks of losses buttressed by COVID-19 and injuries.

“It’s incredible to think that what we’ve gone through in this last month,” Trotz said. “I have never gone through it, these guys have never gone through it. … It felt good to, after a game, have a little life in the dressing room. Music blaring and guys ribbing each other.”

Islanders
Anders Lee and Ilya Sorokin #30 celebrate a 5-3 win.
NHLI via Getty Images

The Islanders, who had lost 11 straight before Tuesday, were one defeat away from tying the franchise’s longest losing streak. Then, Lee scored two goals — his first two points since the first game of the streak, on Nov. 7 in Minnesota — and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, after being quiet on the scoresheet from Nov. 4-Dec. 4, scored one and is suddenly on a three-game point streak.

Those are the sort of stats the Islanders will see often if the win at Ottawa was the beginning of a turnaround.

“I think it’s just a sense of relief,” Lee said.

After the three games preceding Tuesday, all overtime losses, the Islanders tried to find the positives — and it was clear they had been playing better. But it felt like a consolation prize, and it couldn’t help their dwindling playoff chances.

“I didn’t lose confidence in the group,” Trotz said. “But you were wondering if they would stay resilient. Could they stay resilient?

“Our game gets picked apart, players get picked apart by our own selves, as coaches, as media, fans. And it’s really hard to not share the blame. We all sit here and take in this together, and we didn’t waver from that. And hopefully that is a really good lesson for this whole group.”

If five points from their last four games is the start of a meaningful turnaround, it won’t come quickly. It took a month to plummet this far. The Islanders are still very much a hockey team staring up a 90-degree cliff.

It’s almost impossible, though, to think they haven’t made it through the worst.

“We weren’t feeling great about ourselves, but we were working,” Trotz said. “And we said, ‘We just gotta stick together.’ So that’s the hard part. That’s the mental toughness that it takes to do anything. And we’ve dug ourselves a really big hole. And we just gotta keep digging ourselves out. At the end of the season maybe you can look up and say, ‘Hey we’re in, let’s dance.’ That’s a long way away.”

Islanders
Kyle Palmieri takes a shot for the Islanders
AP

The Islanders are still missing Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock and Casey Cizikas, who was in his 10th day of COVID protocol on Tuesday and figures to return soon. Trotz also said Nelson (lower body) has resumed skating on his own.

Lee and Pageau both spoke after the win over the Senators about sticking together, staying with the program and finally breaking through. The mental toll of the last month was real, evident any time they sat in front of a Zoom camera and, at times, when they were on the ice.

That has created pressure, which has led to mistakes. But Trotz said he has noticed passes coming off sticks with more firmness, more accuracy the past three games. That is a symptom of confidence. And, just maybe, it can grow.

“Just to get this win, I definitely think takes some pressure off everyone’s shoulders,” Pageau said. “Now we can look back on that stretch and say we got out of it.

“We got out of it together.”

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