The feeling of simply playing out the rest of the regular-season schedule with nothing but the darkness of the offseason on the other side has returned for the Islanders — something that hasn’t been felt by Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz regime.
For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the Islanders won’t be going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which was the last season before a front-office revamp that brought in the Hall-of-Fame GM and future Hall-of -Fame head coach.
It’s a familiar feeling that hasn’t been experienced by the fan base for a while. This was a team that made the playoffs just five times in a 19-year stretch from 1995-2014 and didn’t win a playoff series for 23 years between 1993-2016.
“Obviously, I’d like to be playing for something more than what we’re playing for, but you still have to put the jersey on every day and represent this franchise,” veteran forward Matt Martin, who has spent 11 years over two stints with the team, said. “And I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that.”
The Islanders have been derailed by exterior factors just as much as their results on the ice this season. A 13-game road trip to start the campaign while their new home at UBS Arena was being built was met with a COVID outbreak that saw nearly half the team sidelined during an 11-game losing streak.
While it turned out to be a hole too large to claw out of, the Islanders played respectably despite dealing with the injury bug, game cancellations, and hectic schedule that has seen them play 40 games in just 74 nights.
From March 10 to April 15, the Islanders went 14-6-1, but the relentless slate has seen the team wear down over a recent stretch that has seen them lose five consecutive games — the most recent coming on Sunday to the first-place Carolina Hurricanes.
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“They’ve been battling hard and the number of games we’ve had, I will say that the tanks are a little low at times because of the schedule,” Trotz admitted. “There’s still cracks in our game… I hate being a team that whines. I don’t like to coach teams that whine all the time.”
Now just three games remain on a season that began with Stanley Cup aspirations. After all, this was the very same team that made the Stanley Cup semifinals in each of the previous two seasons.
“We’re disappointed and we’ve had higher expectations for ourselves and what we represented this season,” Martin said. “We know it’s been disappointing but we have to wear that. We still have a lot of confidence in this group and what we were able to accomplish two years prior. We’re going to have a long offseason to wear this one and be motivated and get ready for next season.”
Such a swoon would allow an easy excuse for the Islanders to deflate down the stretch — and the results certainly suggest that they have. But Trotz’s men played the first-place Hurricanes “straight up,” as the head coach described, in a 5-2 loss that was a one-goal game entering the final two minutes before a pair of empty-netters bloated the scoreline.
They aren’t just rolling over and looking for their golf clubs.
They’re all pretty good professionals. We all know where we are.
“Some teams are getting excited for the playoffs and we’re not,” Trotz said. “We’re just being very professional. Guys are going pretty hard.”
“Every time you lose whether you’re out of the race or not, you leave the rink, and it kind of sucks,” Martin added. “You want to win and feel good and be happy and smile. This season didn’t go the way anyone — the way we expected to. It’s not a whole lot of fun playing below expectations. Like I said, we just want to go out and play strong.”