Less than a week after taking the ice for the first time at their new home, UBS Arena in Belmont, the New York Islanders were forced to postpone several games due to a coronavirus outbreak within the team.
NHL officials announced on Saturday that upwards of eight players entered the league’s COVID protocol and that the team’s games through at least Tuesday would be postponed. League officials said they are analyzing the Islanders’ regular season schedule to decide when the postponed matches would be rescheduled.
The Islanders had been scheduled to play the New York Rangers on Sunday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Aside from the coronavirus temporarily pausing their season, the team played its first 13 games of the regular season on the road so that the final touches could be put on their new home before their home opener on Nov. 20.
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello touted the team’s adherence to health and safety protocols to NHL.com. He said people throughout the organization have adapted to its unconventional start to the season to the best of their ability.
“Our coaching staff has done that, we’ve asked our players to do that, and I think they’ve done a tremendous job over these set of circumstances, starting off with being on the road, coming back and having one practice going into a new facility and then being hit with the COVID,” Lamoriello told NHL.com on Saturday. “You can say it’s unfortunate, but I don’t want to say frustrations can get in the way. Certainly everyone is human, but right now all we can do is take a step back and use these three days and get prepared for our next practice and our next game.”
If players and staff test negative through Tuesday, officials said, the team could resume practicing as early as Wednesday.
Forwards Kieffer Bellows, Ross Johnston and Anders Lee, along with defensemen Zdeno Chara, Andy Greene, and Adam Pelech were already in the COVID protocol during the Islanders’ 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Forward Casey Cizikas entered the COVID protocol on Saturday following the loss, officials announced.
Before the announcement, the Islanders had lost eight consecutive games, being outscored 32-7 over that span. Aside from the loss to Pittsburgh on Friday night, the team lost each of the previous seven games by at least three goals. After losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs for the second consecutive year, the Islanders sit at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with a 5-10-2 record.
Head coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com that having players enter the COVID protocol is another challenge the team has to rise above this season.
“We’re in a real tough division,” Trotz told NHL.com “Obviously, we want to do well in this rink. Our fans want us [to do well], they’re excited about that, and we get hit with COVID, we get hit with injuries, those type of things. Very untimely, but that’s life.”
Though the Islanders have yet to secure their first win at UBS Arena, nicknamed “the Stable,” the excitement among the team and the fans was palpable during the opening games.
“It absolutely blew me away,” Islanders forward Mathew Barzal told ESPN. “I walked right in, saw the gym, saw the eating area, and I couldn’t wait to see more. The entire facility and rink and how it was set up was so high-end. … We’re a really lucky group.”
“It really won’t be our home rink for a while,” Trotz told NBC Sports. “It’s like a neutral-site game for the first month. But we’re thrilled that we’re getting into a new rink. It’s great for the fans and it’s great for the franchise.”
The Islanders could potentially resume their season on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.