ST. LOUIS - Evgeni Nabokov hasn't played a game for the Islanders in three weeks, but he's been around the team enough of late. He's the senior member of the squad at 38 and, as he showed at times last season, isn't afraid to speak up when he feels the Islanders need a talking-to.
Even with all the losing -- the Islanders were 0-5-2 in the last seven entering Thursday night's game against the Blues and had lost seven straight on the road in regulation -- Nabokov doesn't see something that would prompt a speech, or even more than that. There's been no quitting in his eyes.
"To me, when the work ethic is not there, then it's time to speak up," the injured goaltender said Thursday morning after practicing with his teammates at the Scottrade Center. "It's not about work ethic here, to me. It's all a lack of confidence right now. The way we're playing, if we win one tough game, no matter how we do it, I feel like we'll get on a roll."
It's that "power of positive thinking" mentality that led Jack Capuano to keep the same lineup on Thursday night that he iced the previous two games, even though those ended in nearly identical 3-2 overtime losses to the Capitals and Penguins.
The Islanders were in position to win both games, blowing third-period leads and getting beaten by Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in overtime. That's a change from the majority of the previous month's worth of games, when the Islanders bumbled their way into two- and three-goal deficits and could not climb out.
"We're obviously not pleased with the results, but I think it's clear we've taken a step in the right direction the last couple games," Andrew MacDonald said. "We've had times during the year where we've had periods and shifts where we've played well, but these last two, I think we've been much more consistent. That's how we know we have to play."
That upswing has coincided with the first two starts of the season for Anders Nilsson in goal and the first two games of the season for Calvin de Haan on defense.
De Haan got humbled plenty by Crosby on the overtime winner on Tuesday night, as did Nilsson, but Crosby has done that to players with much longer resumes than those two rookies.
De Haan, paired on defense with Thomas Hickey, and Nilsson did a good job of keeping Crosby quiet at even strength until overtime. Capuano said he liked Nilsson's minimalist approach in goal.
"For me, with a goalie that size [Nilsson is 6-5], less is more," Capuano said. "His movements were very strong."
The Blues presented a different challenge as the Islanders kicked off a five-game swing against a quintet of the Western Conference's best teams. St. Louis brought stingy defense and a group of big, physical forwards to the game, and the Islanders' small defense faced perhaps its toughest test of the season.
Capuano hoped that would bring out the competitive fire in some of his players who have been struggling, but the coach kept them in the lineup instead of rookie Brock Nelson, who was a healthy scratch for the third straight game.