New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) is congratulated by...

New York Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20) is congratulated by teammate John Tavares (91) after the Islanders defeated the New York Rangers, 4-2. (Oct. 15, 2011) Credit: AP

The Islanders' fast start is just what they needed. But they've been here before -- very recently, in fact.

They won three straight in October of last season, the last an overtime win in Tampa, to go to 4-1-2. What happened in the next 21 games? One win, two coaches and a completely lost season before Thanksgiving.

So the Islanders have won three straight, including a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. But they are wary of feeling that things have changed as they head to Florida for their first road trip of the season, against the Lightning in Tampa on Thursday and the Panthers in Sunrise on Saturday.

"We had a pretty good start last year, so we know there's a long way to go," John Tavares said after Saturday's win, in which he had his second career hat trick plus an assist to give him five goals and three assists in his last two games. "We'll have a good few days of practice and then we'll head on the road. It'll be a good test for us."

Despite their struggles over the last four seasons, the Islanders have been no worse than a game under .500 at home. Away from Nassau Coliseum is where they've been unable to produce points, and it was on the road where last season's 1-17-3 skid began with losses to the Panthers and the Canadiens, the first of 12 consecutive road games without a win. The Islanders went from the Oct. 21 win in Tampa until Dec. 23 (a 5-1 win over the Devils in Newark) without a victory away from the Coliseum.

The way the Islanders have started this season might signal that things are different, though. In addition to Tavares' outburst -- his five goals and eight points are tied for the early league lead, as are PA Parenteau's six assists -- these Islanders have the depth to overcome injuries.

Nino Niederreiter (groin), Milan Jurcina (groin) and Rick DiPietro (concussion) are the only regulars who have missed time. The Islanders have allowed only six goals in four games, with Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov playing well in goal and the veteran-heavy defense doing a good job.

"We didn't play the way we wanted to in our opener," Jack Capuano said of the 2-0 loss to the Panthers that opened the Isles' season Oct. 8, "but the last three games, we've played much better. We've done some good things."

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