It wasn't just the goals that dipped for Michael Grabner last season, though dropping from 34 in his breakout rookie season of 2010-11 to 20 in 2011-12 (and he needed three in the final two games to get there) was certainly a problem for the scoring-challenged Islanders.
As important a number was Grabner's plus / minus, which went from a team-best plus-13 two seasons ago to minus-18 last year. His scoring confidence took a hit when he didn't convert a multitude of chances in the first half of the season, and that leaked over into some other key areas of his game, notably penalty killing, where he and Frans Nielsen combined for 13 shorthanded goals in 2010-11. They had a total of one between them last season, and the Isles' penalty kill went from 12th to 23rd.
"I have to get back to that. I feel like I was able to change the momentum of the game on the PK a couple years ago," Grabner said after practice at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday. "It's not just about scoring goals. The goals will come if you do all the other things the right way."
Grabner and Nielsen have been reunited to start this short training camp, with newcomer Brad Boyes on the right side. Grabner's midseason funk a year ago, combined with a late run by a line of Josh Bailey, Nielsen and Kyle Okposo left Grabner floating on a third line, without much of a special teams role and diminished minutes in the final month of the season.
Were it not for Bailey's recent knee surgery, Grabner likely would have been back outside the top six forwards to start this season. But now he has an opportunity.
"He's still a young guy, and it's so much to do with confidence," Nielsen said. "Two years ago, he had so much of it. He knew, every time he got a chance, it was going in the net. He can do that again."
That's a key. For Jack Capuano, having a clear top penalty-killing pair once again is just as crucial.
"We just weren't as aggressive as a unit last year," Capuano said. "I think we can put the guys in position to be that way again."
Notes & quotes: Lubomir Visnovsky was barred by the KHL from playing for HC Slovan Bratislava Tuesday night in Prague, but he still had no plans to join the Islanders right away. Two people familiar with Visnovsky's situation said the wayward Isles player has a family matter to resolve in his hometown that might take 2-3 weeks; he could join the Islanders after that . . . The Islanders claimed D Thomas Hickey off waivers from the Kings. Hickey, 23, was the No. 4 overall pick in 2007, but has yet to play an NHL game, having spent the last four pro seasons in the AHL.