Last-place Islanders prepare for testing stretch

John Tavares skates against the Carolina Hurricanes at

John Tavares skates against the Carolina Hurricanes at Nassau Coliseum. (Jan. 4, 2014) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

John Tavares said there was no time to panic after Saturday's rather lackluster 3-2 loss to Carolina. He meant that the sort of mistake-prone game the Islanders played through the second period, one that fans saw often during the Isles' 2-10-4 skid through November and December, didn't mean the players needed to scream about a bad loss.

He also meant there are just not enough days in the schedule to chew over a bad game. The team had a short practice at Nassau Coliseum Sunday in preparation for a two-week stretch that could determine whether the Islanders, last in the Metropolitan Division and 11 points out of a playoff spot, can get back into the race. If they can't, it might be time for general manager Garth Snow to start eyeing the March 5 trade deadline and decide what to do with some of his assets.

"We have a ton of games coming up this month. There's a lot of points out there,'' Tavares said. "We just have to be more consistent with the way we approach games.''

Even during the Islanders' three-game winning streak that ended Saturday, there were familiar sequences. They fell behind 3-0 and 3-1 in road wins over the Wild and Bruins, then gave away a 2-0 lead before beating the Hawks in overtime. So Saturday's poor second period did not come from out of the blue.

The Islanders host the Stars Monday night, then fly out after the game to face the Maple Leafs in Toronto Tuesday night. Stops in Denver, Dallas, Sunrise and Tampa, Fla., and Philadelphia follow. The Islanders have won four straight on the road to somewhat offset a 1-5-4 run at the Coliseum.

If they win four or five of the next seven, the talk of calm will be legitimate. Fewer wins than that, and the calls will start coming to Snow in earnest to gauge the price for potential unrestricted free agents Andrew MacDonald, Thomas Vanek and Evgeni Nabokov.

After the six-game road swing, the Islanders have 10 games before the Olympic break. Six are within the division, including three against the Rangers: two at Madison Square Garden and the Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium.

Those rivalry games will be exciting, and the first outdoor game in franchise history will be a thrill. But the Islanders have some work to do to make that game more than just a neat event.

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