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Islanders come out of break needing to break out

Carolina Hurricanes' Alexei Ponikarovsky (23), of the Ukraine,

Carolina Hurricanes' Alexei Ponikarovsky (23), of the Ukraine, and New York Islanders' Steve Staios (24) chase the puck during the second period. (Jan. 3, 2012) Credit: AP

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jack Capuano said there wasn't much discussion about the predicament the Islanders will jump right into Tuesday night. They have 34 games left to make up a 10-point gap between themselves and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, starting here against fellow basement-dweller Carolina. The Isles have six games in the next two weeks to determine where their season is headed.

"If we're talking about that a lot," Capuano said, "we're talking about the wrong thing. We know where we are."

His players also should know how to get where they want to be. The maddening inconsistency that has plagued the Islanders is the main obstacle between the team they are -- three games under .500 -- and the team they want to become.

The next six games coming out of the weeklong All-Star break -- here Tuesday night, in Ottawa on Friday, home to Buffalo on Saturday, in Philadelphia on Tuesday, then home to Montreal and the Kings -- are must-wins, or must produce at least a point, if the Islanders are to have any serious thoughts of leapfrogging from a tie for 13th into the playoff discussion.

The Islanders are kicking off their stretch run with a couple of additions from Bridgeport. The Sound Tigers have reversed their slow start by going 8-0-1 in their last nine games. With the AHL on its All-Star break, forward Rhett Rakhshani and goaltender Kevin Poulin were recalled, and both might play Tuesday night.

Poulin has played and lost twice for the Islanders this season, the last a 3-1 loss to the Predators on Jan. 16. Poulin sat behind Evgeni Nabokov for a week before playing that game, and the rust showed. He hasn't lost in regulation for Bridgeport since, and Capuano might want to go with the hot goaltender.

Rakhshani lost the first two months of the season to a concussion and a knee injury but has nine goals and 25 points in 27 games. He skated in practice with Matt Martin and Josh Bailey. Brian Rolston, who hasn't scored on a goaltender in two months (he has one empty-net goal in that span), might sit out.

"There's a few guys down there that are playing well," Capuano said of the Bridgeport squad (first-year pro Casey Cizikas represented the Sound Tigers in Monday night's All-Star Game). "Garth [Snow] and I talked about some different situations we'll have to decide on for tomorrow."

There isn't much of a decision on what needs to happen. If the Islanders don't answer the bell, a fifth straight season without playoffs will be all but assured before March arrives.

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