They have talent -- John Tavares is a borderline Hart Trophy candidate centering a dangerous line with Matt Moulson (three straight seasons of 30-plus goals with a career-high 36 last season) and Brad Boyes.
They play hard and display enough character to if not pull off a victory, rally to make a game out of a doomsday forecast.
Thursday night was another case of close but no cigar. The Isles' 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs happened after a rally from two goals behind forced overtime, when Dion Phaneuf's goal 1:11 into the extra session deprived the Islanders of a full two points. Adding salt to the wound was Michael Grabner's wrist shot prior to Phaneuf's game-winner that hit the post.
Even after finding a way to overcome an ugly second period to steal a point, even when supported by some yeoman-like work from goaltender Evgeni Nabokov in the third, and even with what they hope was a breakout game from the struggling Kyle Okposo (two assists and the tying goal, his first in 19 games), the Islanders were forced to settle for another defeat. Before a season-low crowd of 9,222, the Isles record at Nassau Coliseum dropped to 2-8-1.
What's missing goes beyond the gap between the Islanders' play on the road and at home. Intangible evidence comes in the form of a frustrating Jekyll and Hyde team still trying to figure out whether it's finally a playoff contender or its usual also-ran.
"We're not making things easy on ourselves," said forward Josh Bailey. "When we play as well as we do at times, the rest of it is pretty frustrating because we know what we're capable of."
Game after game, period after period, the Islanders build up false hope before seeing it get smashed to pieces. From the head coach to the players, nobody seems to have an exact answer as to why.
"We got a point, but we're definitely not happy," Andrew MacDonald said on Thursday. "We've had so many opportunities to close out games, to go up in games, and we can't get it done."
Few teams go from good (sometimes great) to bad as quickly as the Islanders, in the midst of a seven-game homestand that considering their record on home ice could destroy their season. The theory could be this simple: Where Tavares goes, the Islanders follow. When Tavares earns a point or two points, the Isles are 3-2-0, and 1-0-1 and 1-0-0 when he registers three and four, respectively. But when the Franchise is held pointless, the Isles are 0-7-1.
Or perhaps is a matter of putting in a full game's work, as in 60 minutes worth. Until the Islanders figure it out, coach Jack Capuano is forced to spit out a familiar refrain.
"Every day is part of a process for us," Capuano said. "We have to play a certain style to be successful. We have to grind teams down. That is what we have to continue to work at."