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John Tavares happy to be back in game action for Islanders

Ottawa Senators Clarke MacArthur, left, races for the

Ottawa Senators Clarke MacArthur, left, races for the puck with the Islanders' John Tavares during the first period of a preseason game in St.John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. Credit: AP / Keith Gosse

John Tavares was happy to be back in a game on Monday. He played in the second of the Islanders' two preseason games against the Senators in St. John's, Newfoundland, and Tavares will play again Wednesday night at the Coliseum.

After missing the final 22 games of last season with a sprained knee, Tavares' preseason work is drawing a little more interest than usual for the well-conditioned, well-prepared captain.

"I think I'll be around my usual three [preseason games], but maybe four. One extra won't be a big issue for me," Tavares said. "I certainly felt great to be in a game [on Monday] again. It took a little while, but once I found my rhythm in the second half of the game I didn't want it to end."

The search for a left wing to play alongside Tavares and Kyle Okposo is also underway. Josh Bailey got the first crack on Monday and he produced the game's second goal in a 3-2 shootout win -- Bailey scored off a two-on-one with Mikhail Grabovski, who had jumped on for Tavares during a partial line change.

And it's Grabovski who gets the next chance. He will skate out of his natural center spot and move to the left side with Tavares and Okposo Wednesday night when the Isles play their lone Coliseum preseason game against the Hurricanes; Carolina will also be at the Coliseum for the regular-season home opener Oct. 11.

"Yeah, sure, why not?" said Grabovski about getting a turn on the top line, even out of position. "It's always good to play with good players. It's whatever the coaches think. I'm happy wherever they put me."

Brock Nelson was thought to be one of the top candidates for that coveted left-wing slot, but he'll get another game at center after a standout performance in the first game of Monday's doubleheader. Nelson will center a youthful line between Anders Lee and Ryan Strome, two of the many forwards vying for slots in the top 12.

Matt Martin is also among them. The four-year veteran and fan favorite was the only regular left off the travel list for Monday's games, but he was assured by Jack Capuano that it was not a slight.

"I appreciated he came right to me and talked to me," said Martin, who will play Wednesday night. "He said I'd looked good during camp so far and it wasn't anything about that. It'll be good to get back out there."

Notes & quotes: Jaroslav Halak will start Wednesday night's game after playing half of the nightcap on Monday. Kevin Poulin, the forgotten veteran among the quartet of Isles goaltenders under contract, was superb in the second half of Monday's night game and will play at least part of Wednesday night's game as well.

New York Sports