The New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders surely hoped their latest COVID-related pauses would be the last time the virus impacted their seasons.
The Devils and Islanders will be scrambling to overcome protocol-related absences on Thursday night when the Metropolitan Division rivals meet in Elmont, N.Y.
The Devils last played on Saturday, when they dropped a 4-3 decision to the host Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Islanders have been idle since posting a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 1. The victory was their first at UBS Arena.
The Devils’ scheduled game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday was postponed because of protocol issues involving New Jersey players. That number was reduced from nine to seven but now includes the team’s top two goaltenders — backup Akira Schmid and Mackenzie Blackwood.
The only healthy goalie on the roster is Jon Gillies, whose two starts this season — one apiece for the St. Louis Blues and the Devils — were his first in the NHL since the 2017-18 season. He’ll be tasked with trying to help New Jersey, which owns a 4-2-0 record in its last six games.
“This season gives guys opportunities,” Devils defenseman Ryan Graves said. “(Gillies) one of those guys that will benefit from it. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. He’s a guy that’s had a longer road. It’s nice to see him get a chance.”
Head coach Lindy Ruff acknowledged New Jersey likely will have to promote a goalie — possibly Mareks Mitens, who owns a 3-2-1 record with Utica of the American Hockey League.
The latest waves of the pandemic have been unrelenting for the Islanders, who had eight players in protocol when they became the second team to have its season paused by the NHL on Nov. 27. Nine players and three coaches have since been sidelined by positive tests for New York, which is 5-2-1 since an 11-game losing streak ended on Dec. 5.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock, who is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, and head coach Barry Trotz, who missed the Oilers game following the death of his mother, were added to the list Tuesday.
If Trotz is unable to coach Thursday, longtime assistant Lane Lambert likely will get the call on Thursday. Lambert presided over the win over Edmonton as well as the subsequent practices until Trotz returned from his mother’s funeral on Saturday.
“Barry is such an empathetic guy himself, always looking after everyone in our organization, players, coaches, the whole deal — he’s a good family man,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “He’s been through a lot lately and now with the COVID. Wishing him the best here in the next few days. I know he’s itching to be back with us. We’ll make sure we take care of business while he’s away.”
–Field Level Media