You knew there'd be rust. Kyle Okposo wasn't coming back from seven weeks away following emergency surgery to repair a detached retina in his left eye to resume the torrid offensive pace he'd set in the games leading up to the All-Star break.
So Okposo's scoreless line in his four games back isn't all that surprising, even if it is a frustration to a player who was the second-leading scorer on the team, missed 22 games and was still the second-leading scorer on the Islanders.
"We've got 10 games left and it's time for me to start playing better," Okposo said. His Islanders face the Devils in Newark on Saturday and will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak that coincided with Okposo's return.
The scary diagnosis Okposo received on Jan. 20, a day after the All-Star break began, meant that hockey became a secondary thought when he was simply worried about keeping his eyesight. But after the surgery was a success, Okposo turned his attention to being physically and mentally ready to return.
He was physically ready, in such good shape that he needed only two morning skates before he was cleared to play. But the mental side of it -- not confidence, but simply the repetitions of certain plays in each game and the habits that grow from playing consistently -- has taken some time.
"We're facing teams and we're a team where guys are playing well, they've been playing and it's the time of year where everything is real structured, everything is really set for the good teams," Okposo said. "I need to get that timing back so I'm not thinking so much."
Jack Capuano immediately restored Okposo to his spot alongside John Tavares, even though the Islanders' captain had been thriving in Okposo's absence playing with Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Tavares is scoreless in his last four games now, tying his longest scoring drought of the past three seasons.
That's one reason Capuano appears to be shuffling his lines for Saturday's game, putting Okposo with Frans Nielsen and Nikolay Kulemin and reuniting the Lee-Tavares-Bailey line.
"You knew it was going to take a little bit of time, no question," Capuano said. "Right now, though, with the way he's practicing, he's starting to look like the guy who was dominating before he was out."
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.