Jack Capuano's words could be heard over the booming sounds of slap shots ricocheting off the boards.

"Protect the puck!" he shouted Friday during the Islanders' morning practice. "Protect the puck!"

With three weeks left in the regular season, the Islanders' coach still finds himself reminding his players of the basic tenets of the game. And with a five-game road trip beginning Saturday night in Montreal, his team needs to heed his teaching now more than ever.

"It's critical for them in the last 11 games to look in the mirror," Capuano said. "And to play as hard as they can play. It's something we've stressed from day one."

The Canadiens' speed and the skill of their defensemen in transition were the first things to come to Capuano's mind when he discussed Saturday's matchup. As he sees it, the game will be "a good test" for his guys.

Islanders captain Mark Streit also highlighted the fact that Montreal entered Friday night's game against Ottawa tied with the Islanders for last place in the Eastern Conference.

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"They're kind of in the same situation as we are," said Streit, who assisted on both late-game goals in Thursday night's loss to the Flyers. "We're going there to get a win. There's no better city to play on the road than Montreal. The guys are thrilled and there's lot of opportunities in the next few games."

It's tough for the Islanders -- losers of five straight -- to "take any positives out of it when you're not getting two points," right wing Kyle Okposo said. But "that frustration can't creep into your game," he quickly added.

Capuano, who has been pleased with the line of Michael Grabner, Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom, said he will continue to shift around rookie Nino Niederreiter and others. "But," he clarified, "I don't think, as far as our maybe top six, seven forwards, you're going to see too much of that."