The New York Islanders are beginning to dig out of the hole created by a nightmarish start. But the Islanders also know the buckets of dirt have to get bigger much sooner than later.
The Islanders will look to snap their 10-game losing streak Sunday night, when they are scheduled to host anotherteam trying to overcome a slow start, the Chicago Blackhawks, in Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams will be completing back-to-back sets after suffering close defeats on the road Saturday night, when the Islanders fell to the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in overtime and the Blackhawks lost to the New York Rangers, 3-2.
The Islanders, who had two games postponed last week due to a COVID-19 outbreak, have all but one player back from the protocols and have earned a point in each of their two games since they returned from the pause in the schedule. And on Saturday, the long-dormant New York power play, which entered Saturday converting an NHL-low 10.2 percent of its opportunities, generated a pair of goals, both by Oliver Wahlstrom.
"It's about the process," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. "If you play well, you're going to get results, and I thought we played well. We didn't get the two points we wanted. We got one. But it's about collecting points."
Yet Mathew Barzal, the Islanders' top offensive weapon with leading scorer Brock Nelson (lower body) sidelined indefinitely, also recognizes that time is beginning to run short for New York, which is 0-8-2 since Nov. 7 and enters Sunday 13 points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're frustrated not getting two points," Barzal said. "It's nice to get a point on the road. It's not ultimately what we want."
The road back into contention is a bit less daunting for the Blackhawks, who are 7-4-0 under Derek King since Jeremy Colliton was fired following a 1-9-2 start that began with nine straight losses (0-7-2). Chicago is eight points out the second wild card berth in the Western Conference.
King, like Trotz, is preferring to focus on the positives and evidence of gradual development even after defeats that could end up costing the Blackhawks valuable points in the playoff race. Chicago scored first Saturday and was outshot 26-20 over the final two periods yet pulled within a goal of the Rangers -- winners of six straight -- when Alex DeBrincat scored with 1:19 left in the game.
"It'll be (in Sunday's) meeting and we'll talk about the good things we did and how we took a really good hockey team to the end," King said. "We were still in the game; it wasn't like a blowout. We fought back; we did a lot of positive things.
"Hey, there's going to be mistakes. We made a couple and they cost us, but those two mistakes that cost us -- when I first got here, they were about 10 or 12 mistakes, so I think we're making really good strides."
The game Sunday will be the first between the Islanders and Blackhawks since Dec. 27, 2019, when host Chicago earned a 5-2 win. The scheduled game between the teams April 2, 2020, was canceled when the season ended due to the pandemic, and the squads didn't play last season, when regular-season play consisted of intra-divisional games.
--Field Level Media