Josh Bailey scored, and so the song echoed around UBS Arena.
“Heeeey, Josh Bailey. I want to knoooooow, if you’ll score a goal.”
It wasn’t the first rendition this year. But it was the loudest and longest. And the chorus of 17,255 reflected a feeling inside the building during the Islanders’ 3-2 win Thursday over the Devils, that the new barn is finally starting to feel like home.
It took three weeks after the Nov. 20 opening for the Islanders to record a win at home, a stretch in which they suffered an 11-game losing streak and a COVID-19 outbreak. Bailey, for much of it, was stuck in Florida after testing positive for the coronavirus. When they should have been getting used to a new routine, a new locker room and a new ice surface, all of the Islanders’ routines were upended.
“It took maybe a couple games for it to truly feel like home,” Bailey said Thursday. “But since then, it’s been smooth sailing.”
And after going 0-7 over the first three weeks at their new home, the Islanders have earned points in every game they’ve played at UBS Arena since a 4-2 win over the Devils on Dec. 11. That’s only six home games because COVID has forced the Islanders to postpone eight games since Dec. 20, but there has been a marked difference in their play nonetheless.
“The building is different but the people are the same,” Cal Clutterbuck said after practice Friday. “They’re making the same noise. It was a little bit unfortunate the way we had to start things in that building. And I think it took us a little while to get it going. But it has nothing to do with the fans or the building. I think it has to do with the circumstances we were under and us trying to figure out what we needed to do to win.”
The Islanders do seem to have something figured out, reaching deep to recover from a gut-punch penalty that led to the Devils tying Thursday’s match at two in the third period.
Now, with nine of their next 10 games at home, it’s on the Islanders to keep the place rocking.
“I think with three games in 25 days, no excuse not to go in there and win every night,” Clutterbuck said.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Sebastian Aho were back at practice on Friday after missing the game Thursday because their wives had given birth.
“This was amazing,” Pageau said. “Our first one, our little boy. Everything went well and my wife is doing well.”
The Islanders will face a familiar challenge on Saturday when they play Alexander Ovechkin for the first time this year. Their penalty kill held the Capitals superstar to just one goal in four games last year, and 12 of Ovechkin’s all-time best 275 power-play goals have been against the Islanders.
“Don’t let him shoot from that spot [on the half-wall],” acting coach Lane Lambert said. “We’ve, again, been killing against them now for quite some time here. We have a plan in place.”
Lambert said he had not been told when head coach Barry Trotz will return from COVID protocol. Trotz entered protocol on Tuesday, making Monday’s game against the Flyers the first game he’d be eligible to coach if he is asymptomatic and clears protocol.
Ross Johnston was suspended for three games and fined $15,000 by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head on A.J. Greer on Thursday. Devils coach Lindy Ruff told reporters that Greer will miss “serious time” following the hit.