The last time the Islanders played a series of games at the Coliseum, home cooking more closely resembled food poisoning. They embarked on what turned out to be a four-game losing streak that eventually cost them first place in the Metropolitan Division.
This time around, some of the toughest teams in the Western Conference are making the trip to Hempstead Turnpike. With nine games left in the regular season and the third-place Penguins only two points behind with a game in hand, the second-place Islanders absolutely need to make this homestand a good one.
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"We want to be playing our best hockey going into the postseason and we want to right the ship a little bit and get back to playing our game," Kyle Okposo said after Monday's full morning practice at Nassau Coliseum. "Teams are playing well, and this time of the year, a lot of teams are fighting to get into the playoffs, jockeying for positions. We have to make sure we're ready to play every night."
In that respect, there's both good news and bad news for the Islanders.
The good news: For the first time in a long time, they're almost fully healthy.
Okposo came back earlier this month after being sidelined for six weeks because of a detached retina. Defenseman Nick Leddy came back against the Devils on Saturday after a four-game absence, as did goalie Jaroslav Halak, who missed two games. Lubomir Visnovsky practiced with the team for the first time Monday since being injured a week ago.
The not-so-good news: The next four games, against the Minnesota Wild, the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings, will be genuine tests of the Islanders' mettle.
The Wild is one of the NHL's hottest teams and the next three clubs, which coach Jack Capuano called "big, physical teams," could be duking it out in the playoffs come April. Only the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings currently are out of a playoff spot.
"Every team presents a different challenge," Capuano said before circling back to Tuesday's challenge. Minnesota's "got a lot of firepower up front with the acquisitions that they've made, so they've got a lot of skill. They're quick, they're a great faceoff team, they're good in the circle, so we're going to have to be sharp."
The Wild has eight wins in its last 11 games, and Minnesota's overall team speed rivals the Islanders'. Former Islander Nino Niederreiter has a team-high five game-winning goals, including one in a 5-4 win over the Islanders on Dec. 9.
"They're playing for their playoff lives," John Tavares said. "They're very deep. They can skate very well. They do a lot of good things and they have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net. We have to be at our best and we have to play a smart game.
"We're going to have to earn every inch of ice and we want to get back on track at home, so it should be a fun game."
Notes & quotes: Capuano said there was no update on Mikhail Grabovski, who is recovering from a concussion suffered Feb. 19. "Grabovski, honestly, hasn't even skated," he said. "It's going to be a little bit for him." Previous reports said Grabovski was skating on his own.