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Islanders trying to figure out how to jump-start offense

Islanders' Frans Nielsen controls the puck against the

Islanders' Frans Nielsen controls the puck against the Buffalo Sabres in the first period of an NHL hockey game at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 15, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Islanders' search for goals -- from anywhere, but most of all from the forwards who don't play on the top line -- has led them back to basics.

"We saw some teams on the road trip that play a certain way, and you have to work so hard to get chances," Frans Nielsen said yesterday. "I think maybe we saw we have to play a little harder than we have been, just be good away from the puck, cause turnovers and get our chances that way. We need to be a team that works hard again. That's the only way we can get back in this."

After Saturday's 1-0 overtime loss to the Canadiens, the Islanders' troubles seemed to be focused on their anemic offense rather than the porous defense and suspect goaltending during their 3-14-3 slide to the bottom of the Metro Division.

The Islanders have scored only 16 goals in their last 11 games (1-7-3), 11 of them from the top line of Thomas Vanek, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Of the 12 even-strength goals the Islanders have scored in that span, 10 have been from that No. 1 line; the other two are from Eric Boulton, his first goals since the 2010-11 season.

Jack Capuano has kept the Michael Grabner-Nielsen-Josh Bailey line together despite their goal-scoring droughts. Nielsen, who had 10 goals in the first 22 games this season, has none in the last 12. Bailey hasn't scored a goal in 23 games. Grabner hasn't scored in 30 straight.

But there are signs of life. Grabner led the Islanders with seven hits on Saturday, a rare feat for him, and that line had several strong shifts.

"For me, this is the best Grabs has played in a long time," Capuano said. "The physicality, the amount of turnovers he's creating. He's playing as well as he's ever played since I've been here."

Of course, that support would mean more if Grabner, or anyone, could provide offense. Ryan Strome had a few good moments in his debut on Saturday, but he couldn't jump-start the offense either.

The Lightning visits the Coliseum Tuesday night, another team that has had some success this season but shouldn't present an overwhelming threat to the Islanders.

The Isles' main problems are self-inflicted.

"We had odd-man rushes, two-on-ones," Capuano said of Saturday's game. "We've got to find a way [to score]."

Notes & quotes: Casey Cizikas returned to practice with a plastic face guard protecting his jaw. It appears he'll be well enough to play Tuesday night after missing Saturday's game . . . Capuano said there is "no update" on defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion). Visnovsky, out since Oct. 21, has not been cleared for any sustained physical activity.

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