Jack Capuano's message to his players is one worth repeating to Islanders fans.
"We shouldn't be feeling too good about ourselves," the coach said Monday. "We've won a couple games here, but we're only a game over .500 and we're not in a playoff spot. We haven't accomplished a thing yet."
The recent history of the Islanders (13-12-3) is littered with moments such as the one coming up Tuesday night, when the Senators (15-8-6) come to the Coliseum to kick off a four-game homestand. This core of Islanders has been on runs like the team's current 5-1-2 streak, only to take a step or two back, losing the opportunity to really make a charge into the thick of the playoff race.
That opportunity will be there Tuesday night against the gritty Senators, who are 3-0-2 in their last five and have managed to claw their way up the Eastern Conference standings despite missing Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek, three of their top scorers, as well as goaltender Craig Anderson, all because of injuries. But they have kept up their low-scoring, defense-first style to compensate for their missing stars.
The Islanders' ability to clamp down, especially with third-period leads, hasn't exactly been extraordinary, but Capuano's message to his team can only be reinforced by some of their lulls, as on Saturday, when a 3-0 lead over the lowly Panthers became a 3-3 tie in a 1:43 span of the third.
"It's about keeping focus, about committing to keeping our structure," Capuano said. "We say it a lot as coaches. The one thing we can control is our work ethic. You keep that up, you'll get good results."
Notes & quotes: Isles Jesse Joensuu (hernia) and Matt Carkner (groin) are almost ready to return, but not in time for Tuesday night's game. Michael Grabner (shoulder) skated on his own Monday morning but isn't quite ready to practice with teammates, either. Grabner could be ready to return by Thursday or Friday, when the Canadiens and Penguins come to town on consecutive nights.