Even the Islanders’ good news comes with bad news.
Two-and-a-half hours before the puck dropped in the, general manager Lou Lamoriello appeared on a Zoom call to announce that the Isles hadn’t received any additional positive COVID-19 tests. But just after 7 p.m, the team announced that Noah Dobson would miss the game, saying the defenseman was day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
That left the Isles with three pairings that might as well be playing in Bridgeport: Robin Salo and Scott Mayfield, Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton, Thomas Hickey and Paul LaDue. Mayfield is the only player of that group who started the year as a regular.
The Isles got to this point through a combination of COVID-19 and injury. In the former category: Adam Pelech, Andy Greene, Zdeno Chara. In the latter: Ryan Pulock and Dobson.
“It’s not really a challenge to get up to speed and everything cause I feel like everybody’s doing — all the coaches, players, staff — are doing a good job of helping us out if there’s questions or whatever,” Aho said. “But of course it’s challenging in the way that we have a lot of guys that have gone down right now but we have a lot of good guys that [have] stepped up at the moment.”
The lack of familiarity was exposed with miscommunications a number of times, and a defensive breakdown led directly to the Rangers’ third goal when LaDue turned it over in the neutral zone, leading to an odd-man rush on which Kevin Rooney scored.
Another call-up, Otto Koivula, had a neutral-zone turnover of his own that led straight to Rooney’s second-period goal.
Nothing about the team’s situation is ideal right now. After Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Rangers, the Islanders have lost seven straight and are free falling out of the playoff race. They didn’t plan to be so dependent on players who were supposed to be on the AHL roster.
But here they are. And on Wednesday, it bit them.
“It doesn’t matter what lineup we put out there,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re in the NHL. You can either get it done or you can’t.”
Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s frustration boiled over with 1:51 to go in the game, when he dropped the gloves with Alexis Lafreniere after getting tripped, possibly in retaliation for his hit earlier in the period on Ryan Lindgren. Both players were called for five-minute fighting majors.
The Islanders transferred Pulock from IR to long-term IR in order to stay cap compliant.
Koivula made his 2021-22 debut after a call-up earlier in the day. Centering the third line with Andy Andreoff and Oliver Wahlstrom, Koivula played 11:28 and finished with one shot and one hit. LaDue also dressed for the first time this year, playing 12:33 and finishing with one shot and two hits.
Semyon Varlamov’s streak of 168:26 without giving up a goal to the Rangers ended with Chris Kreider’s second period goal.