NEWARK - Jack Capuano expressed cautious optimism before the Islanders' 3-0 win over the Devils at the Prudential Center Saturday night. Jaroslav Halak was back in net and, after a four-game absence, defenseman Nick Leddy finally returned from his upper-body injury.
But that doesn't mean that everything automatically goes back to the way it was two weeks ago, when the Islanders were riding high atop the Metro Division.
"It's going to take a couple of games for him to get back," Capuano said of Leddy after the Islanders' morning skate. "He hasn't played in a couple of weeks, but this is a good time for him to get back in as we go down the stretch."
Leddy seemed to agree. The thing he looks forward to the most, he said, is "just getting back with rhythm and timing and getting back into the flow of the game."
In short, these things take time. In Leddy's case, "time" amounted to a couple of hours.
The 24-year-old showed nearly no signs of wear in his first game back since suffering the injury in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 9. He again teamed with Johnny Boychuk and played 24 shifts for a total of 21:18.
It's the first time Leddy had to deal with a sustained absence in a long time -- 320 straight games, to be exact -- and the Islanders suffered for it. In the four games he missed, they totaled four goals -- one in each game -- and gave up a total of 11.
Leddy has 29 points this season, but his greatest contributions are as a facilitator, and his transition game has been pivotal in that oh-so-potent Islanders offense. The Isles entered Saturday night's contest averaging 2.99 goals per game (that average took a hit during the losing streak), good for third-best in the NHL.
"When you lose elite players, you have a hole to fill," Capuano said. "This is a guy that is very important to our team. Again, when you've got a guy that can move the puck, the less time you gotta spend in your own end, a guy who helps our power play when he's on the ice."
Not to mention that Leddy and Boychuk provide a stable force field around Halak -- and, Capuano said, a chemistry that was missing during the losing streak when Boychuk teamed with Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey for two games each.
Capuano said Leddy's absence gave "other guys an opportunity, but there's no question there's a little bit of a hole on the back end."
Consider that hole filled, and just in the nick of time.