HockeyRegional Sports

Only going home can save Islanders

Photo: David Zalubowski/AP

I took in an Islanders game Thursday night at Prudential Center along with so many Islanders fans that made the trek from Long Island. It was the team’s unofficial home game of the season that night being that it was the first time they played in front of their fans in the metropolitan area.

The Islanders played the Devils that night at Newark, and they took a 4-0 loss to the Devils. After a 4-1 loss to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night at Amalie Arena, they are 5-5-2 on this road trip from hell and the season overall. They will finish the trip Tuesday night when they play the upstart Florida Panthers at Sunrise.

From watching the team in person last week, it sure seems like this team is ready to go home. There has not been much rhythm offensively with the team playing only 12 games and playing once in a few days. They have been on and off on this trip. They have gone home and gone back on the road. The frequent flyer miles may have taken a toll on the players’ bodies.

Remember athletes are a creature of habit. They are used to a regimented schedule such as practicing at their own home ice and being at home often. To be on the road for this long can have an effect after three weeks. It sure seems like that has been the case.

Watching the Islanders on Monday night, something seemed off when they played the Lightning. They looked lifeless. There was not much puck movement, and there was not much shooting. It’s surprising considering the Islanders would have been fired up to go play in Tampa after they lost Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals to them at the same arena. They had so much to play for just to prove a point. Instead, they lacked a sense of urgency.

It was jarring to see the Islanders defense just stay there and not clear the puck while Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov made four saves in a third-period sequence to keep this at 2-1 until Islander killer Brayden Point (of course it would be him) scored that goal that would put the game away with 6:32 to play.

This showed right there it could be the road trip took a toll on the Islanders.

The Islanders top two lines struggled to provide any offensive jolt. This team has not looked great on the power play by going 4-for-31 overall this season. The defense at times carried this team much more than the offense.

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz tried everything to get the offense going by pairing new lines. So far nothing doing.

The only solution that can save this group right now is playing at UBS Arena, which is the Islanders’ new home arena. They play their first-ever game at that arena on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. It will be a four-game homestand. A chance to get this team to settle in and work out whatever kinks they have.

I always feel the season does not begin until a team plays a home game. The Islanders have yet to play one this season since the finishing touches took place at UBS Arena. They will get to practice at their new digs later this week in getting a feel of the place.

The road trip seems convenient for a team that is struggling to find its game and identity. But sooner or later, the players know it’s going to get late. Trotz is already sounding the alarm by calling out his players to do much better and changing lines.

They haven’t played 21 games yet to have anyone get a feel on them. But sooner or later, losses start catching up to a team. It becomes a habit. It gets to the point where everyone is pressing.

They are in decent shape where they are in .500, and they got 12 points. This team is just a winning streak away from getting back on track, and that’s why the Islanders are banking on home ice for this to happen.

But it comes down to players stepping up and feeding off from the crowd. They can only rely so much on the nooks and crannies of home ice and the crowd. They have to perform or else it’s not going to matter.

Right now, there are many questions about the Islanders. Who will step up in the power play? When will Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier awaken from their offensive slumber? Will the Islanders score more than two goals again this year? Will several players start whining about Trotz’s defense-first restricting their ability to score if it gets worse?

I figure being at home will get the team going because it can’t get any worse.

I don’t think being at home will make the power play any better since the power play stunk for the last 20 years.

If they can’t get going at UBS Arena, start panicking.

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