Kyle Okposo shoots the puck as Simon Despres of the...

Kyle Okposo shoots the puck as Simon Despres of the Pittsburgh Penguins tries to defend him. (Feb. 5, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

At the 14-game mark of last season, Kyle Okposo was sitting on some ugly numbers: no goals, three assists and a minus-7 rating. His game was so off that coach Jack Capuano sat him out as a healthy scratch for three straight games.

At the 11-game mark of this season, heading into Monday night's game against the Hurricanes at the Coliseum, Okposo is sitting on some more ugly numbers, especially for a player who has worked with the top two lines thus far: one goal, three assists and a minus-5 rating.

But although one of his alternate captains and team leaders is struggling to open yet another season, Capuano told Newsday he has no plans to bench Okposo.

"Last year was different. I saw a guy who was going through the motions a little bit," Capuano said. "Now I see a guy who's fighting the puck, no question. But he's working hard."

Okposo responded to the benching last November, scoring two goals in his second game back. He closed last season with nine goals in nine games, leading to thoughts that this season's start would be different.

After the lockout, though, Okposo has looked out of place -- first on the top line with Matt Moulson and John Tavares, then with Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen after Capuano flipped Okposo and Brad Boyes on the top two lines three games ago.

Okposo is a minus-4 the last two games. With Josh Bailey's return and effective play Saturday night against the Sabres -- almost every forward except the ones on the Okposo line had a strong game Saturday -- Okposo eventually could find himself sliding further down the roster if he doesn't pick it up.

"I think he knows where he's at with his game. We've talked about it," Capuano said. "Am I losing patience? No. We need more from that second line, but Kyle is working on the things he can control -- work ethic, attitude. I have no problem with those."

Notes & quotes: Capuano gave no indication Sunday, when the Islanders were off, but goalie Rick DiPietro could get his second start of the season Monday night. Evgeni Nabokov started 10 of the first 11 games, including the last seven, with diminishing returns. The third-period winner by Alexander Sulzer in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Sabres was one Nabokov (12 saves) should have stopped . . . Capuano liked the overall effort by his team, which outshot Buffalo 43-15. That likely means the same 18 skaters for Monday night, so Marty Reasoner, Eric Boulton and Joe Finley are likely to remain healthy scratches.

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