The Isles were shut out for the fifth time at home this season when the New Jersey Devils came into the Nassau Coliseum on the day after Thanksgiving and blanked them 1-0. At that point, they were last in the Eastern Conference standings -- and last by a considerable margin in scoring. With a four-game road trip beginning the next day in New Jersey, it looked like this season would be a repeat of 2010-11, when a horrible November doomed the Islanders to their fourth consecutive non-playoff season.
Instead, the Islanders started finding the net -- and the win column. A 3-2 win at New Jersey was followed by a 2-1 victory at Buffalo. The Isles lost 5-4 in a shootout at Chicago on Friday, and then matched their season-high in goals in a 5-4 win at Dallas the next night. They did it again Tuesday when they routed the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1. That's 19 goals in a five-game stretch, by far their best of the season.
"We had a pretty good week last week," captain Mark Streit said after Tuesday's victory, which moved the Islanders (9-11-5) within six points of eighth place in the East with games in hand on every team ahead of them. "Obviously it was a big road trip for us, a successful trip, and it was really important to take the momentum and carry it into the start of this homestand."
"We have a lot of work ahead of us. We're not even close to halfway through the season yet. It's been a good week, but that's all it's really been. It's time to move forward and get ready for two of the best teams in the League -- we have to make sure we bring our 'A' game and understand that it's not going to get any easier, for us, that these games are huge, and try and keep the momentum."
-- John Tavares
"That gave us the confidence, the security," Streit said of the three-goal burst. "It was a big win for us to start the week."
Even bigger could be the fact that No. 1 center John Tavares finally scored. Though he had 5 assists in the games at Chicago and Buffalo, Tavares hadn't put the puck in the net since Nov. 5 before he beat Mathieu Garon at 14:01 of the opening period.
"It's great getting chances, but it's about time I started capitalizing on them more frequently," Tavares said. "It was nice to get that one early in the game, to finally see one go in. I've got to stick with it and keep producing when I get my opportunities."
With Tavares scoring in bunches at the start of the season, the Isles won three of their first four games. But from Oct. 15, when they beat the Rangers, to the Nov. 26 victory at New Jersey, the Islanders won just twice in 16 games (2-10-4).
"The first four games of the season we played well," Streit said. "Then we hit a hole and lost a lot of games. We tried to find ways to win hockey games, and instead we found ways to lose. We talked a lot, we practiced a lot, and the past 10 days have been way better. We've found ways to win.
"All the guys are going, all the lines, and we're playing way better defensively. We score goals, the (power play) works well, the (penalty kill) works well. It's a combination of things."
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"I think you can see him believe in himself -- his confidence and his ability were why he was drafted so high," Tavares said of Montoya, the sixth pick of the 2004 Entry Draft. "Sometimes it takes guys longer than others, especially for a goalie. Sometimes it's not always easy to find your way, but he's battled hard. He came here (from Phoenix in a trade in February) with an open mind; we have him a great opportunity and he's run away with it."
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to Streit was that the Islanders didn't have to hang on to win Tuesday, as they had in the other three wins during the 4-0-1 streak. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period and put up two more goals for a rare easy victory.
"Playing good teams on the road -- Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas -- you're not going to go there and win 5-1. They are good teams," Streit said. "It was good to go out and get a win, and in the third period when we were up 4-1, they didn't have anything. We kept playing. We didn't get too passive. That's good for our confidence. We need to learn how to play with a lead."
Despite their improvement, Tavares knows there's a long way to go if the Islanders hope to get into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. They host Central Division-leading Chicago on Thursday and the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "We're not even close to halfway through the season yet. It's been a good week, but that's all it's really been. It's time to move forward and get ready for two of the best teams in the League -- we have to make sure we bring our 'A' game and understand that it's not going to get any easier, for us, that these games are huge, and try and keep the momentum."