Islanders defenseman Brian Strait, left, holds up Calgary Flames forward...

Islanders defenseman Brian Strait, left, holds up Calgary Flames forward Blair Jones along the boards during the first period. (Sept. 17, 2013) Credit: AP

Brian Strait had hoped that his arrival with the Islanders -- on the waiver wire from the Penguins before the abbreviated 2012-13 season began -- was an opportunity to prove he belonged in the NHL.

He had that, however briefly, when his good play to start last season earned him a three-year, $2.25-million contract with the Isles. But he's had two long-term injuries since, and his current injury -- what the team is calling an upper-body problem -- still is keeping him out into a sixth week.

"This is two years in a row now and it doesn't get any easier. It's mentally exhausting," Strait said after going through an extended on-ice workout Thursday morning, his fourth day back on the ice. He's been out of action since Oct. 22.

Strait's broken ankle last season cost him all but 19 regular-season games. This injury looks to extend into a two-month range as well. Strait was unable to do anything for the first month of his time on injured reserve, so his conditioning is nowhere near game-ready.

"I'm just on this trip to try and get myself back into shape," he said. "I'll go through the practices and see where I'm at when we get back."

Nabokov inching closer

Also along for the trip is Evgeni Nabokov, who has missed three weeks with a groin injury. He had a full practice and felt good about his progress with just a few days back on the ice.

"It's much, much better," Nabokov said. "I feel like I can move freely, move around without thinking about it. Hopefully I can do a full practice soon and get going."

Nabokov might not be ready by Tuesday when the Islanders play the Sharks in San Jose, Nabokov's home for the first 10 years of his career.

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