A spring visit to Washington D.C. conjures images of the National Mall, The Smithsonian Museum, The White House and countless other destinations on the District of Columbia “bucket list.” But the only sights the New York Islanders will see this week in the nation’s capital are those on the two mile drive between their hotel and the Verizon Center, the site of Tuesday’s game against the Capitals.
The Islanders embarked on a four-game road trip Monday that will see them make stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. The team will stop home briefly Sunday before re-boarding the bus that night for a game against the Devils.
The club enters the trip just two points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, powered by their road record of 8-4-1, which is fourth-best in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we play simple on the road,” Boyes said. “We get pucks in the zone without trying to do anything too fancy. We get pucks on the net. We finish checks. Those are the little things that we focus on.”
Everything in the team’s itinerary this week is geared toward the game. The focus among the players is astutely on the next opponent, and minimizing external distractions. Most of the players are creatures of habit, with all 24 hours of each day structured to leave their bodies and minds as primed for the game.
With so much to see in Washington D.C., the players and coaches could visit numerous historic buildings, monuments and memorials during their stay. But Matt Carkner says visiting those tourist destinations is not on the agenda.
“No – I’ve never seen the White House, Washington Monument, any of that stuff,” Carkner said. “Maybe one of these days, but it’s tough to fit it in to a trip like this. Our routine is not that exciting. I’m with some of the old guys usually – me and Boults (Eric Boulton) and (Marty) Reasoner. When we get in, we’re probably going to relax and find a spot to get a bite to eat, chit-chat, and go back to the hotel and shut it down.”
At 14-15-3, the Islanders are just two points out of the top-8 in the Eastern Conference standings. The Capitals are tied with 31 points, while the Flyers (28 points) and Devils (36 points) all are within close range. The Penguins have a five-point lead on Montreal for first place in the Conference, so all four opponents the Islanders will face have their eyes on the standings.
With 16 games remaining against teams they are battling for playoff positions, Keith Aucoin says now is not the time to divert from his carefully crafted routine.
“We’re going to be either at the rink or at the hotel the whole time,” Aucoin said. “The guys are together, and it’s all hockey. We stay focused and we’ve been pretty successful. Once we get to Washington, I’ll go straight to the hotel and relax a little bit. I’ll grab dinner with a couple of the guys. I like to have a steak the night before a game. Then I go back to the hotel, relax and watch a little TV and try to get to bed by 11:00 for a good night’s sleep. On game days, I get up for breakfast at the same time every day and go to pre-game skate. I always have my chicken parm and pasta, take a two-hour nap, and then I’m at the game.”
The youngest player on the trip, Casey Cizikas, is rooming for the first time with Kevin Poulin. Even the 22-year-olds are all business on the road.
“We might go out for dinner, but the goal is to relax and get a good sleep so we can get ready for tomorrow,” Cizikas said. “Me and Pouls still have to feel each other out. We haven’t roomed together before, but it’s pretty easy. You find a show that you both like, and you leave it on, then you both just pass out at the same time.”
With four wins in their last five road games, including two shutouts in that span, the Islanders look to continue their success away from Long Island and make a strong push toward a playoff spot. Tuesday’s game at Washington will start at 7:00 p.m.