The Carolina Hurricanes have used one of the NHL's best defenses to get off to a strong start, but a defensive breakdown in their last game sent them to their first regulation loss in nearly three weeks.
The Hurricanes look to bounce back from their worst defensive performance of the season when they visit the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Carolina (6-2-3) allowed an average of 2.00 goals per game in its first 10 games, tied for third-lowest in the league. Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward went 6-0-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average in that stretch.
Ward, though, gave up five goals in the first period before he was pulled in favor of backup John Grahame in Friday's 7-4 loss to Montreal. The defeat, which snapped Carolina's streak of seven games with at least one point, was the club's first in regulation since falling 2-0 at Washington on Oct. 6.
"They moved the puck about as well as a power play can move it," said Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore after his team gave up five power-play goals for the first time since an 8-4 loss at Phoenix on Dec. 3, 2005. "We weren't great on the penalty-kill, but you have to give them credit."
Despite the defeat, Carolina outshot its opponent for the eighth straight game. The Hurricanes are 5-1-2 in those contests.
The Islanders (5-3-0), meanwhile, have won back-to-back games, thanks in part to an offensive surge. After totaling five goals in going 1-3-0 in its previous four games, New York has outscored opponents 9-5 in consecutive wins.
To record their first three-game winning streak of the season, however, the Islanders will need to overcome a week-long layoff. They haven't played since their 4-3 overtime victory over New Jersey last Saturday.
In that game, Bill Guerin knocked a loose puck past New Jersey goalie Kevin Weekes for the game-winner with 3.7 seconds left in the extra session. It was his fourth goal in the last two games after being held without a tally in the first six games of the season.
"You can't be overanxious, and when you get a chance, you have to be opportunistic," Guerin said. "There's not a ton of pretty plays in the league anymore. That goal was a busted play."
In their consecutive wins, the Islanders have converted five of their 11 man-advantage opportunities while killing all 10 of their opponents' power-play chances.
"Special teams have been the difference lately," coach Ted Nolan told the Islanders' official Web site. "Penalty killing has been really good. (Assistant coach) John Chabot has done tremendous work with our penalty killers. We have a strong unit of guys who have been effective."
Part of New York's success defending against the power-play has been goalie Rick DiPietro, who has led the Islanders to a 90.9 penalty kill percentage - among the best marks in the league. DiPietro, though, is just 5-7-0 with a 3.02 GAA in 12 career games against the Hurricanes.
Ward, meanwhile, is 4-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA in five games against the Islanders.
Carolina went 2-1-1 in the season series against New York in 2006-07, but lost both games at Nassau Coliseum - one in overtime. Before last season, though, the Hurricanes had won five of their previous seven games there.