With the start of training camp yesterday and their first game on Saturday, the Islanders know they don't have very long to prepare for the season. But one thing is clear according to their coach: The defense has to be better than it was last year if they are to compete for a playoff spot.

"There is more emphasis in certain areas, especially in how we defend, and the commitment, the sacrifice, the willingness of our players, and the guys that are going to do that are going to get ice time," coach Jack Capuano said after the team's first official practice yesterday.

While Capuano never has to worry about the effort put forth by the team's best defender and captain Mark Streit, the Islanders' defense ranked 27th in the league last season, allowing 255 goals.

Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald are the only returning defenders to the Islanders blue line this season (not including Ty Wishart, who appeared in one game for the Islanders and spent most of the season in Bridgeport).

Lubomir Visnovsky would bolster that group — that is, if he ever decided to show up for training camp. Currently playing in the KHL, Visnovsky believes he was unfairly traded to the Islanders and should have been allowed to use his no-trade clause. He did not board a plane which the Islanders provided for him to return to the club from Russia on Saturday. General manager Garth Snow said he had "nothing to report" yesterday when asked about Visnovsky's status.

"I'm not really concerned about that right now," Capuano said. "I know there has been a lot of talk but we have to focus on the players that are here right now that are going to give us the best chance to win. Obviously there is some work we are going to have to talk about on our back end, on our defense, and that's a conversation we are going to have moving forward."

The Islanders did sign veteran defenseman Radek Martinek to a one-year deal yesterday, a move which will help the defense. Martinek, who spent last season with the Blue Jackets, appearing in only seven games before a concussion sidelined him for the rest of the season, was drafted by the Islanders in 1999 and played nine seasons on Long Island. He is a lock to make the team, and got high praise from Streit.