Islanders' John Tavares faces off with Scott Campbell in the...

Islanders' John Tavares faces off with Scott Campbell in the first period of the Blue vs. White Scrimmage at Nassau Coliseum. (Jan. 16, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The crazy sprint that will be the 2013 NHL season begins Saturday night for the Islanders.

If they're not careful and focused, it could be over before it starts.

The Islanders put themselves in big holes each of the previous two seasons with terrible streaks near the start. In 2010-11, a 1-17-3 skid cost Scott Gordon his job and put the playoffs out of reach before the calendar turned to the new year. Last season, a 2-10-4 slide after a 3-1-0 start left them scrambling even before December.

With the 48-game season -- and all of it taking place in the Eastern Conference -- even a four- or five-game losing streak could spell doom to the Islanders' playoff chances.

"You're losing points to teams that are pulling away from you," Matt Moulson said after the Islanders' final practice of their six-day training camp. "I don't think any team can afford a bad start to this season."

Certainly not the Islanders, who are not as deep as some of the teams in their division and conference.

They start the year without two players who figure in their plans: defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and wing Josh Bailey. Visnovsky will report to the Islanders from Slovakia the first week of February and Bailey, out after knee surgery, still is two weeks away at minimum. Bailey was injured while playing overseas and will not get paid until he's medically cleared.

What the Isles do have going for them is continuity among the core. They lost P.A. Parenteau in free agency and signed Brad Boyes to fill in on the right side on offense. But led by John Tavares, the Islanders' group of top forwards and defensemen has stayed the same through the past two seasons. So the group around Tavares is well aware of the past two seasons' poor starts.

"It's something you hope we've learned from," Tavares said. "We're trying to move past the last couple seasons and improve, just be more consistent night in and night out."

Notes & quotes: The Islanders completed their 23-man roster by claiming D Brian Strait, 24, off waivers from the Penguins, the fourth player the Islanders have claimed in recent days. They will start the season with 13 forwards and eight defensemen . . . Jack Capuano did not reveal his starting goaltender for Saturday night's opener against the Devils at Nassau Coliseum, though it appears likely that Evgeni Nabokov will get the nod over Rick DiPietro.

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