Matt Carkner skates during the New York Islanders training camp....

Matt Carkner skates during the New York Islanders training camp. (Jan. 13, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Matt Carkner signed with the Islanders as a free agent on July 1 intending to provide a measure of toughness on the ice and a measure of senior leadership off it. But he hasn't been able to provide either for six weeks.

Carkner returned to the lineup Tuesday night, his first game since Feb. 5. He suffered what he thought was a minor groin injury in practice on Feb. 6, tried to skate at Madison Square Garden the next morning and ended up missing six weeks with what ultimately was diagnosed as a hip flexor injury.

"They said it would be six to eight weeks, so after all that, I'm back on the early side," Carkner said.

Carkner, who had no points, a minus-2 rating and 20 penalty minutes in the nine games he played to start the season, said the most frustrating part has been his inability to be a presence in the locker room. After spending the previous five seasons with the Senators, the 32-year-old had wanted to bond with his new teammates right away. A lockout and now a lengthy injury put that on hold.

"I wanted to establish myself here, get my game going, and that's been impossible to do," Carkner said. "It plays on your mind a little bit. But the guys have been great, and now I can get back to what I hoped to do."

Radek Martinek, who had played the previous seven games, was a healthy scratch, as were Joe Finley and Eric Boulton, who sat out to make room for Michael Grabner's return.

Sustr chooses Lightning

Defenseman Andrej Sustr, a 6-8 defenseman at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, signed a two-year contract with the Lightning. The Islanders and Rangers were among a multitude of NHL teams who made offers to Sustr, an undrafted free agent who just finished his junior season.

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