The New York Islanders embarked on their first extended road trip of the season, jettisoning Long Island on Wednesday afternoon for a five-game tour through the Western Conference.
The team makes a stop is Denver, before swinging through California to play the three area teams and wrapping up the five-game trip in Arizona.
Casey Cizikas, a self-described under-packer on trips, admitted that a week in California could sound like a nice getaway, but Islanders road trips are for business, not pleasure.
“It’s not a vacation,” he said. “We’re here for a reason.”
That means being ready to play in hostile environments, as the California trip is one of the league’s toughest.
The LA Kings are the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks finished atop the Western Conference last season with 116 points and the San Jose Sharks earned 111 regular-season points. The Colorado Avalanche won the Central division last season and Phoenix’s 89 points were 10 more than the Islanders had in 2013-14.
“We need to worry about the way we need to play because there are a lot of things we can’t control,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “You’re in a different environment, an uncomfortable environment and you have to play a smart road game and not give the other team momentum or the crowd energy.”
With seven new regulars on the roster, the road trip presents a chance for team bonding. The Islanders will be in their own bubble, eating, sleeping and travelling exclusively with each other for the next 12 days.
“There’s a bunch of us new guys, so this is how we get to know each other a bit better,” Johnny Boychuk said. “Even though we hang out a lot, it’ll just be different being in a different city.”
Cizikas said experiencing trials and tribulations together as a unit brings the team closer.
“We see each other everyday, but guys go home to their families, their wives,” Cizikas said. “On the road, we become each other’s family.”
MIDDLE SIX PRODUCTION KEEPS LINES INTACT
Capuano kept the lines from Tuesday’s game intact at Wednesday’s practice. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin flanked Frans Nielsen while Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome stayed intact.
Capuano said he’s always trying to tweak combinations to find more offense, but the production out of his second and third lines makes big changes difficult.
The Islanders middle six scored six of the seven Islanders goals against the Dallas Stars on Saturday and generated the Islanders only even strength goal Tuesday.
“Line combinations are something we don’t want to change too much because we have some pretty good chemistry right now,” Capuano said.