Following a second round of cuts, in which the club assigned 12 players to Bridgeport, the Islanders are now down to 40 players on the training camp roster.
As the numbers decreased, the intensity increased on Thursday. The remaining group knows the stakes are high with only one more preseason game left to make an impression on the coaching staff and management to show they deserve a spot on the Opening Night roster. That desperation and determination showed at Thursday's intense practice at Northwell Health Ice Center, which focused on ironing out lines and defensive pairs, working on special teams, breakouts and speed of play.
"Today, you saw it crank up a little bit in their battle levels," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "Even though they're teammates, they're starting to get ready for the season. They're being hard on each other and they're getting each other ready for the season. I like that aspect."
For the players, the further consolidation of two groups down to one for on-ice practices provides the look and real of the regular season. With a 4-2-0 preseason record, those still at camp are eager for the start of the regular season, but are also getting into the intricacies to be game-ready come the home-opener on Oct. 4 at NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum.
"We're down to one group," Brock Nelson said. "It's been good to get back out there. We're starting to work on some more systems and what not. The legs are coming back. It's nice getting in a couple situations during the game. Obviously, [you're] still working on getting your game-legs back and your timing. There's a lot of different things that you're trying to get back during a game and just the structure [of play].
Trotz noted that bubble players will have to make a statement against the New York Rangers on Saturday night to solidify their outcome, but in the meantime the coaching staff and management are carefully evaluating potential scenarios for an Opening Night roster.
"We're going to have to make some decisions here," Trotz said. "And good on the group, they've made it really hard. They really have. We'll see if anyone can step out and really solidify that. I don't think there's really too many wrong choices right now. I don't think there's really anyone that has pulled themselves off of the map. There's a lot of guys that have done what you expected them to do. They've made our decision process a whole lot harder."
Here are the lines and d-pairs from Thursday's practice:
Anders Lee - Mat Barzal - Jordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey
Anthony Beauvillier - Derick Brassard - Leo Komarov
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Ross Johnston - Tanner Fritz - Tom Kuhnhackl
Simon Holmstrom - Oliver Wahlstrom - Josh Ho-Sang
Adam Pelech - Ryan Pulock
Nick Leddy - Noah Dobson
Scott Mayfield - Devon Toews
Thomas Hickey - Johnny Boychuk