The New York Islanders' first slump in several weeks has arrived, and it comes with their most pivotal stretch of the season upon them.
The Islanders will begin a three-game stretch against potential Stanley Cup contenders Friday night, when New York is slated to visit the New Jersey Devils in abattle of longtime division rivals at Newark, N.J.
Both teams have been off since playing at home Tuesday night, when the Islanders' late comeback bid fell short in a 7-4 home loss to the St. Louis Blues and the Devils continued rolling with a 3-0 home win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The loss was the third in the last four games (1-3-0) for the Islanders, who have been outscored 14-6 in falling to a trio of teams - the Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators - not currently occupying a playoff spot.
The caliber of competition is about to get more challenging for the Islanders, who follow Friday's visit to the Metropolitan Division-leading Devils with games against the defending Metropolitan champion Carolina Hurricanes. On Tuesday, there is a meeting with the Boston Bruins, who are tied with New Jersey for the most points in the NHL.
The Islanders will seek more offensive consistency after outshooting their opponents 153-105 over the last four games but scoring most of their goals in bunches.
After being limited to one goal apiece by the Flyers and Predators, New York collected all its goals in a seven-minute span in the second period of a 3-0 win over the Blackhawks on Sunday before scoring three goals in 10 minutes in the third period Tuesday night to cut the Blues' lead to 5-4.
Head coach Lane Lambert said he was pleased with the Islanders' ability to generate shots but that the team had to be more aggressive near the net.
"We talked about it when we talked about net presence," Lambert said following practice Thursday. "I think it's just a mentality. Every once in a while, you've got to refresh on the mentality."
Few teams are feeling better about themselves than the Devils, who are 21-2-1 since opening the season with two consecutive losses. New Jersey, which tied a franchise record by winning 13 straight games from Oct. 25-Nov. 21, entered having scored the seventh-most goals (96) in the NHL while allowing the second-fewest (57).
Three Devils players - Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier - are averaging more than a point per game. New Jersey hasn't had more than one player finish the season at least a point per game since 2005-06, when Brian Gionta had 89 points and Scott Gomez collected 84 points.
The Devils haven't trailed in either of their last two wins. After edging the Flyers 3-2 on Saturday, Vitek Vanecek - who has become the no. 1 goalie in the absence of the injured Mackenzie Blackwood - authored his second shutout Tuesday night.
"It's not just me ... the (whole) team (is) playing really good," Vanecek said. "Everybody's happy when we're winning. It's always fun. It's not just me, it's the team."
--Field Level Media