The Islanders entered November in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 11 points. But they now sit last in the division as they open their game Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With 19 points following losses in six of their past eight games, Vanek could provide a spark.
"I'm really anxious," Vanek said. "I didn't get to play many games with my new team here so it's tough to watch. But at the same time it's a long season. It's important to be healthy and be 100 percent out there."
Vanek scored a goal against Pittsburgh while a member of the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 5 in a 4-1 loss. In six games with the Islanders, he has one goal and two assists.
New York has scored two goals or fewer in three of its five games without Vanek.
"We need him back in there," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "It helps our power play, it helps Johnny's [Tavares] line. When a guy comes back it's usually the pace of the game. So he's been skating hard, he's been working hard off the ice and he was questionable in Toronto but we had a couple extra days to get him back."
Tavares has two goals and six assists in his past six games and has 25 points, tied for fourth in the League with Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf. Frans Nielsen has 22 points and Kyle Okposo has 20 points, but they are the only other Islanders players with more than 10 points.
"I found myself kind of watching from the outside and kind of not getting into those greasy areas," Cizikas said. "Those great goal scorers, that's where they get the majority of their goals from, from in front of the net."
The Penguins dropped their first game against the Islanders on Oct. 25 at Consol Energy Center, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Pittsburgh is aware of how skilled New York can be.
"They came in here earlier in the season and won a 4-3 game," Bylsma said. "They're dangerous. They can be. Not just with the top line of Tavares and Okposo, but speed throughout their lineup and skill. We saw that in the last game against them.
"We are certainly aware of their top line and what they can do."
Here are the projected lineups for the Penguins and Islanders: