The Islanders are scheduled to play their first rivalry game at UBS Arena on Wednesday night against the Rangers, but their ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has left the team barren and provokes the question of whether the contest should go on.
Defenseman Zdeno Chara became the seventh Islander to test positive for the coronavirus in the last week, general manager Lou Lamoriello announced Tuesday. Chara joins Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Ross Johnston, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Kieffer Bellows in COVID-19 protocol.
It took 11 total positive tests (10 players and associate coach Jack Capuano) on the Senators to prompt the NHL to postpone three of Ottawa’s games, so there is speculation the Islanders could be shut down until they get the outbreak under control.
“We did have a conversation [with the league on Monday],” Lamoriello said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “There is no decision to my knowledge, we’re preparing to play unless we hear otherwise.
“I have no knowledge of what the threshold is [for postponing]. I believe that’s in the hands of the doctors both in the National Hockey League and the players’ association and the infectious disease people.”
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant hadn’t heard anything about the game’s status as of Tuesday afternoon. And when Ryan Strome, who contracted COVID-19 earlier this season and missed four games, was asked if there were any concerns over playing the Islanders right now, the Rangers center bluntly said no.
While the Islanders received some rare good news on Sunday, when Anthony Beauvillier was able to return to the lineup after registering a false positive test, the encouraging feeling didn’t last very long. Brock Nelson suffered a lower-body injury in the second period of the Islanders’ 3-0 loss to the Maple Leafs and, according to Lamoriello, is expected to be out two to four weeks.
As a result, the Islanders, who have lost their last six games and currently sit in the basement of the Metropolitan Division, recalled defenseman Thomas Hickey and forward Anatolii Golyshev from AHL Bridgeport.
The Rangers may be facing a shell of the Islanders team they went 2-6 against last season, with top defenseman Ryan Pulock also on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, but it doesn’t change their approach to the game.
“I think they’re a team that they’ll probably play a pretty similar style no matter who’s in the lineup,” said Strome, who spent the first four seasons of his NHL career with the Islanders after the organization drafted him fifth-overall in 2011. “They’ve got a great coaching staff and good structure and good veteran guys. I watched their game the other day, although they’re missing their guys, they play the same way. They play hard.
“I don’t think we approach it any differently. Our job is to go in there and just play our game. I think it’s more about what we do this season and trying to get some consistency game-to-game for us, rather than worrying about other teams.”
After visiting Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle to face the newest expansion team, the Kraken, at the end of last month, the Rangers are set to compete in their second new building at UBS Arena.
“I’m excited,” Gallant said. “I watched the game the other night on TV and it looks like a beautiful building and should be fun to go in there. Any time you see a new building like that, I think the players are looking forward to it.”