The New York Islanders won't have to look far Tuesday night -- either on the ice or in the Eastern Conference standings -- to find evidence they can turn around their season.
The Islanders will look to stop their longest losing streak in more than a decade when they visit the Senators, who will be trying to author their longest winning streak in more than four years.
The Islanders were off Monday after earning a loser's point for the third straight game Sunday night, when they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout at Elmont, N.Y. The Senators will be completing a back-to-back set after earning their third straight win Monday night by edging the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout at Newark, N.J.
The loss was the 11th straight (0-8-3) for the Islanders, who made the NHL semifinals the last two years and were considered a Stanley Cup favorite entering this season. But a COVID-19 outbreak -- eight players ended up in protocols -- at the end of a franchise-record, season-opening 13-game road trip and injuries to leading scorer Brock Nelson and No. 1 defenseman Ryan Pulock have threatened to end New York's playoff hopes before Christmas.
With everyone back from the COVID-19 protocols except Casey Cizikas, the Islanders -- who haven't lost more than 11 straight since a 14-game skid (0-11-3) from Oct. 23-Nov. 24, 2010 -- have begun stirring with three straight overtime or shootout losses. Head coach Barry Trotz said "it feels like hockey again" Sunday, when Noah Dobson scored with 3.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
"It's unfortunate we didn't get the second point," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said Sunday night. "But we're building here. There's some positives. It's starting to feel right again. There's still more. Baby steps. This isn't going to happen overnight."
No team can understand the road ahead of the Islanders quite like the Senators, who are the only other NHL squad to endure a COVID-19 shutdown this season. Ottawa, which had 10 players as well as assistant coach Jack Capuano placed in the protocols, went 1-11-1 from Nov. 1 through Dec. 1, a span in which it had three games postponed -- from Nov. 16 through Nov. 20 -- against the Devils, Nashville Predators and New York Rangers.
The Senators' three-game winning streak began with wins Thursday and Saturday over a pair of potential Cup contenders, the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche. On Monday, Ottawa fell behind 1-0 just 35 seconds into the game and twice tied the game before battling the Devils for 33-plus scoreless minutes prior to the shootout.
"We trailed twice and stayed with it," Senators coach D.J. Smith said. "Earlier in the year, we don't win that game. We would've found a way to make a mistake, or guys would've panicked a bit."
The Senators haven't won more than three straight games since a six-game streak from March 2-11, 2017. Ottawa has produced nine three-game winning streaks since then.
The Islanders and Senators didn't oppose each other last season, when regular-season play consisted of intra-division games. The teams last met on March 5, 2020, when host Ottawa earned a 4-3 win.
--Field Level Media