Islanders roster getting back to normal with COVID returns

Every sport is running like a 20-year-old clunker right now, but with the NHL, you sometimes get the sense that the engine might just conk out.

Case in point, a text about two hours before the puck drop between the Islanders and Sabres on Thursday night.

It read: “Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Zach Parise and Robin Salo have been removed from the team’s COVID-19 list. Sebastian Aho has been placed in COVID-19 protocol. Cole Bardreau, Austin Czarnik and Michael Dal Colle have been recalled from the team’s taxi squad. Grant Hutton has been recalled from Bridgeport. Kyle Palmieri (lower body) has been placed on the team’s IR list (retro Dec. 16).”

Got all that?

All things considered, the announcement put the Islanders in a better place, roster-wise, than they were coming into the day. It meant they played the Sabres missing only Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, Oliver Wahlstrom, Ryan Pulock and Aho. And in the NHL right now, playing down just five starters and in front of a capacity crowd is a luxury not everyone has.

Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) celebrates his goal against the Bruins with left wing Matt Martin.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Coach Barry Trotz was asked earlier in the day whether it was a relief to be playing with more of his roster than he might have anticipated a few days ago.

“There is,” Trotz said. “Especially cause a lot of the guys who were out on our team were more on the penalty-killing side. We got pretty lean there pretty quick. And the guys that will be back in, that’s part of their responsibilities. Feel a little bit better about that, but at the same time, we’re getting used to getting to game-time and figuring out our lineup, it seems, lately.”

Aho is the 16th Islander to enter COVID-19 protocols this year. The Islanders played a week’s worth of games with an unrecognizable lineup thanks to an outbreak before the league stepped in to postpone contests.

Everyone — or that is, everyone south of the Canadian border — was handed a lifeline on Wednesday with the announcement that players could exit protocol five days after a positive test by testing negative, having no symptoms, wearing a mask around others and getting clearance from local health authorities.

That’s how Clutterbuck and Parise were allowed onto the ice Thursday, and with no change coming to stop asymptomatic players from being tested, this change is key to the league plowing on, the ever-present question of, “What about Canada?” aside.

“Anything that’ll get our guys back quicker,” Adam Pelech, who was in protocol for 10 days earlier this year, said before the game. “Definitely great.”