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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

There finally is continuity in the Islanders' universe

John Tavares of the Islanders skates in the

John Tavares of the Islanders skates in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The one conspicuous difference in the Islanders Saturday night was the "C" on John Tavares' jersey.

He made his home debut as captain at Nassau Coliseum, with mostly the same teammates who finished a nice try against the Penguins May 11.

As far as the franchise and its best player are concerned, the "C" does not stand for change. They take that as a compliment.

"I really don't feel a difference," Tavares said about his new responsibility. "Everyone is so familiar with everyone else in our locker room. Not much changed. Obviously there are a few new guys, but they're guys [we] knew from past experiences and teams.''

In fact, the beauty in the boisterous sold-out home opener against the Blue Jackets was the comfortable sameness, the déjà vu. The vibrant, tailgating atmosphere for the Islanders' 3-2 shootout loss was a reminder of the playoffs.

In the Islanders' universe, "C" stands for continuity. They want to pick up where they left off when they were a goal away from taking the star-driven Penguins back to Pittsburgh for Game 7.

They want to just keep going, knowing that "nice try" doesn't cut it anymore. It is high time for the Islanders to win a playoff series for the first time in 21 years. Players expect it, fans deserve it. The question is whether there is enough improvement to do it with a roster that did not add much.

Mark Streit, the previous captain, was allowed to leave through free agency -- a pool into which the Islanders did not dip deeply. Their plan is to allow their own prospects to flourish and not mess with the chemistry -- another "C" word -- that is their second-greatest strength (after Tavares).

Coach Jack Capuano described the blueprint this way: "Every guy needs to give a little bit more, every coach needs to give a little bit more, everybody in our organization needs to give a little bit more. The one thing that guys should know here is that we've got some eager guys who would like to play for the New York Islanders."

Who knows if this season is the next phase in a canny youth movement, letting rookies Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan make their way? Or is this a case of frugal management having held back until the team moves to Brooklyn the year after next?

For now, the Islanders are generating more excitement than they have in a decade. Thanks to the run that ended with overtime in Game 6 nearly five months ago, the Islanders matter again. The buzz Saturday night was palpable.

Having one of the top players in the world doesn't hurt. Tavares is renowned for building on his successes, coming into a season better than he was when he finished the previous one.

During pregame introductions Saturday night, he was announced last as the new captain and received the loudest roar. Then he assisted on Lubomir Visnovsky's power-play goal at 8:17 of the second and made a strong pass to set up Matt Moulson's goal less than six minutes later.

Capuano said that other than making him a touch more vocal, the "C" has not changed Tavares at all. He still has the same humble personality. This captain's overwhelming importance to his team is reminiscent of a former Coliseum performer, Julius Erving, whose two ABA title banners reappeared in the building's rafters.

"We still have a lot to prove. We've only been to the first round," Tavares said. "For sure, we take a lot of pride in playing for the Islanders and representing the community here. A lot of people are believing in us. We believe in ourselves. But there's a long way to go."

A little change might not hurt. They squandered a two-goal lead Saturday night, as they did occasionally in the previous two seasons. "A few guys played it safe," Capuano said.

He wants the whole team to be more consistent, to compete more on every shift. Those are baby steps toward the ultimate "C," the Cup.

First things first. Can these Islanders continue to late spring? We'll see.

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