A sluggish stretch has dropped the New York Islanders out of first place in the Metropolitan Division, but their upcoming schedule presents them with a chance to regain that status.
The Islanders attempt to bounce back from their latest defeat Sunday night when they open a favorable four-game stretch against the league-worst Buffalo Sabres.
New York (33-18-1) has been arguably the biggest surprise in the NHL this season, but it has dropped four of five following a 6-1-0 stretch.
After opening this three-game trip with Thursday's 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia, the Islanders fell 2-1 at Boston on Saturday. However, coach Jack Capuano wasn't discouraged after his club amassed 40 shots.
"I'm really just proud of the effort we had in here," Capuano said. "We played a solid game against a good hockey team. We had some chances, but we have to find a way to score some goals."
Scoring wouldn't figure to be a problem in the next four games. After facing Buffalo (16-34-3), the Islanders will host Edmonton, Toronto and Columbus - all teams with losing records and among the worst in the league defensively.
Capuano's club, though, has totaled only eight goals during the 1-4-0 stretch. Brock Nelson has gone 13 games without a goal and fellow center Frans Nielsen has one in his last 15.
It was New York's defense that faltered at Buffalo on Dec. 27, as the Islanders blew a three-goal third-period lead before falling 4-3 in a shootout.
The Sabres, who allow a league-worst 3.49 goals per game, have shown signs of life by winning two of three following a franchise-record 14-game losing streak.
Jhonas Enroth has come up big recently, allowing six goals on 103 shots while starting the last three games. He made 38 saves Saturday and Buffalo scored the first three goals in a 3-2 win over Dallas.
"We owe a lot to Jhonas," said Tyler Ennis. "He played great. He's been great all year. It was great to get the lead. We got off to a quick lead and then Jhonas, he won it for us."
It's unclear if Enroth will get the nod on back-to-back nights, but he had 33 stops against the Islanders in December.
Michal Neuvirth has a 1.80 goals-against average while winning five of six career starts against them, but he's lost eight straight starts with a 4.10 GAA. He's also struggled with a lower-body injury and hasn't played since Jan. 17.
Islanders captain John Tavares has 18 points in 17 career meetings with the Sabres, scoring twice in the December loss. He has 11 points in nine games overall, with four of his five goals in that span coming on the power play.
Tavares leads a power play has converted 7 of 27 opportunities in nine games, and is facing a Buffalo penalty kill that's allowed opponents to go 11 for 33 in 10 contests.
Jaroslav Halak should be back in net after backup Chad Johnson made 34 saves Saturday. Halak stopped 16 of 18 shots Thursday after allowing seven goals to lose his previous two starts.
He's surrendered three goals during a three-game win streak against the Sabres.
Already missing second-leading scorer Kyle Okposo, the Islanders are dealing with injuries to several other players. Forwards Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) and Michael Grabner (undisclosed) were hurt Saturday, and defenseman Calvin de Haan's status is also unclear after he was cut near his eye by a skate.
The last three meetings between these teams in Buffalo have gone to shootouts.