The Islanders are looking up -- and not just at the Rangers, who lead them by one point in the Metropolitan Division. Jack Capuano found some silver linings despite Tuesday's loss to the Rangers: Kyle Okposo is healthy and Brian Strait is no longer a healthy scratch.

As the front office was in the process of locking up defenseman Johnny Boychuk with a seven-year deal Thursday, Capuano said he is excited to see how Strait will pair with Travis Hamonic for a prolonged period now that the defense will be without injured Nick Leddy for an estimated two weeks.

"I thought Brian was good," the coach said of Strait's nearly 17 minutes against the Rangers. "I thought he and Travis played a strong game. It's a heavy pair, there's no question. They're big bodies."

Strait has played in 39 of the team's 69 games and hadn't appeared since Feb. 28. "I was playing some good hockey when they took me out so I was feeling pretty good about myself," said Strait, who looks forward to teaming with Hamonic. "When we're on the ice we want to make it so whoever is on the ice with us doesn't want to play.

"You want to frustrate them, you want to make sure, especially the offensive guys, that they don't get any opportunities, they're dumping pucks in and you're pushing them around on the walls and just making things hard for them. A lot of skill guys don't like to play that game, so if you can be hard on them it wears on them all game. It's just our game."

With a victory Tuesday, the Islanders would have opened a five-point lead over the Rangers, but Strait said, "We're not kicking ourselves right now, we've got a good team here, we know what we've got. We know we're pushing toward something right now.

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"We're content with where we are but we're not overly excited about it. We have a lot more that we want to give and we know we have a lot more. We've got to work toward these next [13] games and get our game where we want our game to be at when it comes playoff time."

Okposo returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 19. "More than anything else I was impressed with his conditioning," Capuano said. "He played over 18 minutes."

Capuano added that Okposo's timing was off but "you're out that long period of time it's going to take a little bit of time. But I thought he was really good and as we get moving forward here he's only going to get better.''

Okposo, who before eye surgery to repair a detached retina had 44 points in 46 games, said, "Physically I didn't feel like my body missed a beat. In regards to my hands and timing and things like that I was a little bit off . . . I thought it was a really good step for me. Coming back from some injuries in the past I've felt a lot worse. I don't think it's going to take every long."