"I thought we played hard."
"We did some good things, but not enough to win."
These are common postgame remarks from the Islanders' locker room this season. Other seasons too, but this one perhaps most of all.
This is a team that comes close, that alternates good and bad periods, good and bad games and, overall, has been a maddeningly inconsistent team.
The search for consistency also has included a search for someone to take charge from within. This is the first season in recent memory that general manager Garth Snow did not sign a veteran player who has been part of a Stanley Cup-winning team, a guy who may have seen his playing skills diminished but still provides an older, wiser presence in the room for the core of younger players.
"We've talked about this since the season began. Those core guys -- Johnny [Tavares, 22], Josh [Bailey, 23], Kyle [Okposo, 24], Travis [Hamonic, 22] -- they're not young anymore, they've been here a few years," coach Jack Capuano said. "I have faith in the guys in there. They want to win, they're character guys. Doubt cannot creep in."
But it's been evident at times that even with an amazing talent in Tavares leading the way on the ice, there have been more than a few moments of mental lapse.
The Islanders have an 8-11-2 record heading into Sunday's game against the Senators -- and have held a lead or been tied in the third period in 16 of those 21 games.
This is what leads to frustration.
"We're right there," Evgeni Nabokov said. "Maybe people don't want to hear that, but I really feel it. This team is close."
Mark Streit, 35, is a capable captain and a steady presence, much as the younger players Capuano named are reliable, compatible players, but perhaps not the most vocal in exhorting their peers.
Nabokov, 37, who has the most playoff experience of any Islander -- no player on the roster has been past a conference final in his career -- also has been vocal.
That's rare for a goaltender, and Nabokov knows it. He was reluctant to speak much about the team's leadership; to him, it's a bit like a starting pitcher talking about what's missing from his team's at-bats.
"Maybe we play hungrier, a little bit on the edge, with a little swagger," Nabokov said. "I think sometimes it helps. You look at the top teams, Pittsburgh, Boston -- they have a little swagger, a little cockiness, in a good way. We need to find that a little, and it's not easy when you're at home, you have a bad record. You have to say almost, 'To hell with it.' "
The core players do not believe that leadership is lacking, nor do they feel the coaches have failed to prepare them. "I really don't think we need cheerleaders in here before the game," Streit said. "We're all aware of what we need to do every game. We just have to do it."