To borrow an old expression for a seminal night for the Islanders' old arena, Kyle Okposo was a sight for sore eyes.
His return last night after a seven-week absence following surgery for a detached retina would have been welcome by the Islanders and their fans no matter when it occurred. Even though his team has done fine without him, they know how much they need him. They cherished his comeback even more because it occurred just in time for the final regular-season Islanders-Rangers game at Nassau Coliseum.
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Okposo played 18 minutes, 33 seconds, took 20 shifts and was credited with three shots in the Islanders' 2-1 loss. He didn't look like a guy who had sat for 22 games, even if he didn't prove to be a difference maker.See alsoLatest NHL playoff pictureSee alsoIsles vs. Rangers: Who's better where?
The timing of his return meant that he was not content to ease his way back in. And it meant something deeper for Okposo, who has been an Islander his entire professional life. He left college early to join the Islanders' affiliate in Bridgeport seven years ago, so he knows how much any meeting with the Rangers means, especially the last one at Nassau Coliseum.
"It's a pretty fun game to come back to," Okposo said after the optional morning skate. "Any time you're hurt it's tough to watch the guys. You feel like you want to be out there."
His team wanted him out there just as much.
Despite having been out since the All-Star break, Okposo still entered Tuesday night as the Islanders' second-leading scorer with 44 points. Getting him back felt a little like acquiring a solid player in a trade.
With Okposo, it is more than statistics, though. He is a leader -- he was right back to wearing the 'A' for alternate captain -- and a competitive, physical presence. On his first shift, little more than a minute into the game, he whacked at the puck in the goalmouth and got into a shoving match with Marc Staal. Rather than going directly back to the first line, he skated with Nikolay Kulemin and Frans Nielsen, but he was on the first power-play unit.
"He was playing great before the injury so I know how anxious he is to get back," John Tavares said, adding that his usual linemate's return would be "a huge boost."
Coincidentally, the first game Okposo missed was a home game against the Rangers Jan. 27. The setting was the same, the context a bit different Tuesday night. "It's been a little bit nostalgic this year, everything that's happened at the Coliseum, from opening night to this game. It's just kind of another chapter," Okposo said.
The Islanders were pleased the book has reopened on his season.