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New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (27) celebrates his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Tuesday, April 26, 2022, in Washington. The Islanders 4-1. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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After two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup semi-finals, expectations were high this season for the New York Islanders. There was also the excitement of finally moving into their long-awaited new home.

However, an early-season slump and COVID-19 outbreak in the team put the Islanders (37-35-10) in a tough hole they simply couldn’t get out of and they ended up missing the playoffs. playoffs for the first time since 2018. .

Star center Mathew Barzal said he was heartened to see the players speak right after the season finale on Friday night about what they need to do next season.

“We were already talking about bouncing back, where we know we need to be,” he said. “When you see this quick turnaround in us wanting to have a winning mentality and not worry about plans this weekend, the chatter was about getting better for next year and taking this long offseason and getting stronger. .”

The Islanders ran out 20 players while on COVID-19 protocols and several November and December games were postponed. An 11-game losing streak took the Islanders to 5-15-5 at the start of December and they spent much of the season 15 or more points away from a playoff berth.

An 11-4-1 streak brought them within 11 points of second wildcard in the Eastern Conference on April 3, but that was as close as it gets. They finished at 16 points.

“I think we all wanted to be successful so much and we all wanted to figure it all out and everyone was working towards that,” captain Anders Lee said. “We did the best we could. … In the end, we just didn’t perform when we needed to and play the hockey we needed at the right time.

The Islanders made the playoffs each of the first three years under coach Barry Trotz, reaching the second round in 2019 and the semifinals the past two. Only two-time defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay have advanced further in the playoffs in each of the past two years.

Now the Islanders have 4.5 months – their longest offseason in four years – until training camp opens in September.

“You take advantage of the situation you have in front of you,” veteran forward Josh Bailey said. “For us, that’s what it is right now. It’s resting, spending time with your families, recharging the batteries, the more the summer progresses, the hungrier you are and the more you come back ready to leave.

BRIGHT POINTS

Several players have achieved terrific numbers with Brock Nelson setting career highs of 37 goals and 59 points. Barzal also had 59 points, hitting 40 assists for the fourth time in his career, and Noah Dobson (13 goals, 38 assists) became the first Islanders defenseman to reach 50 points since Mark Streit in 2008-09.

Ilya Sorokin (26-18-8, 2.40 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) made 52 starts in his 82-game first NHL season. His seven shutouts tied the franchise record set by Glenn Resch in 1975-76 and tied by teammate Semyon Varlamov last season.

Oliver Wahlstrom (13 goals, 11 assists in 73 games) was a regular in the roster this season, and other youngsters like Kieffer Bellows (six goals, 13 assists in 45 games), Robin Salo, Austin Czarnik and Otto Koivula have played precious minutes as fillers.

SETTING UP AT THE UBS ARENA

The Islanders had to wait 13 games before opening their new home next to the Belmont Park racetrack. They started 0-5-2 there before settling and winning seven of nine. They enjoyed another late season streak in which they won 10 of their 12 home games to finish 20-16-5.

“There was definitely a transition there,” Lee said. “I wouldn’t feel at home right away and the way we started at home didn’t feel right to us. … It certainly took us a little while to settle in and next year there is nothing new. We know the routine and we know how it is there.

CHANGES?

There could be some roster changes for next season as veteran defensemen Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene may have played their last NHL games, although neither has indicated their intention. Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello have repeatedly expressed support for the core group that was kept intact last summer and at the midseason trade deadline.

“You saw we started to rotate a little bit, play better hockey, get a good game with a good record,” Nelson said of the team’s strong end-of-season run. “It’s part of business, you never know what’s going on.” It’s out of our control and up to Lou in the end, but if it’s the same group coming back, I think everyone here believes we can get back to where we were.

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Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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