Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
No one is going to accuse Casey Cizikas of being a grizzled veteran.
The 23-year-old center is in his second season with the Isles and no one is going to say he's gone soft after a terrific rookie season -- he missed exactly one game after suffering a broken jaw in Phoenix on Dec. 12.
But the clutch goals he scored and hyper-aggravation he caused opponents last season has been diminished this year.
Cizikas isn't alone in falling off this season, but he is kicking himself for letting his edge slip a bit.
"Complacency crept into my game a little bit, I won't lie," Cizikas said earlier this week after scoring his first goal in 34 games. That goal, the winner in the Isles' 2-1 victory over the Senators, gave Cizikas 15 points heading into Saturday's game, the same number of points he had last season in 29 fewer games. He surpassed last season's total with a first-period assist Saturday.
"I stopped myself in my own tracks a bit," Cizikas said. "I think there were times I was forcing things where I shouldn't have and got a little down on myself."
Even though these final two months haven't meant much in the standings, they have meant quite a bit to Cizikas, who has skated primarily with call-ups Mike Halmo and Johan Sundstrom. Neither of those young guys may be Islanders next season but their presence, along with all the other rookies, has had an impact.
"Having all these guys here reminds me that any one of them could work harder than me, play better than me and I'll be the one going back to Bridgeport," Cizikas said. "I won't let that [complacency] happen again."
No Nabokov talks until offseason
Evgeni Nabokov has said he'd like to keep playing and the Islanders are reasonably happy with his play the past three seasons -- the team is really only unhappy with Nabokov's injuries, given that the Isles are 13-19-6 in games Nabokov hasn't dressed for since he joined the team in 2011. They're 76-70-22 with Nabokov in uniform entering Saturday's game.
So a reunion for a fourth season, albeit in a backup role, seems to be in the offing. Sources from both the Isles and Nabokov's camp said talks on another one-year contract won't engage until after this season ends.
Nabokov turns 39 in July, so his durability may still be a concern next season. But less so if the Islanders acquire, either via trade or through free agency, a younger but still experienced goaltender to be the No. 1 entering 2014-15.
Among the many numbers that haven't been good all season for the Islanders are their faceoff percentages. Entering yesterday's game, not a single Islanders center who had taken more than five draws was at more than 50 percent and the team's .473 faceoff winning percentage was 26th in the NHL.
That's the Isles' lowest number since 2008-09, when they won 45.7 percent of their draws and were 29th in the league. They have been above 50 percent just once in the last six seasons, in 2010-11 (50.1 percent) and haven't been higher than 19th in the league in that span.
Frans Nielsen (49.5 percent) has a chance to get above the 50-50 mark over the final five games.