The Boston Bruins and New York Islanders had been two of the hotter teams in the Eastern Conference this month, but both clubs got cooled off earlier this week.
Mere hours after Thanksgiving, they'll seek to rebound Friday when the teams begin their season series in a matinee at TD Banknorth Garden.
The surprising Bruins (14-4-4) have surged to the top of the Northeast Division with a fantastic November. They earned at least one point in each of their first 10 games this month, going 9-0-1, before falling 3-2 Wednesday night at Buffalo. Matt Hunwick and Phil Kessel scored for Boston, but the Bruins never fully recovered after allowing two first-period goals to the Sabres' Derek Roy.
"We got better as the game went on after a poor first period where we didn't match their effort and determination," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "When you're the top dog, teams are gunning for you. They came out extremely hard."
The Bruins, though, are still riding a seven-game winning streak at home, their longest since winning eight straight from Nov. 2-29, 2002. They've averaged 5.0 goals during the run, which dates back to a 4-2 defeat to Toronto on Oct. 23.
Tim Thomas hopes that offensive production continues as he tries to bounce back from his first loss in four weeks. He stopped 20 shots Wednesday but lost in regulation - and allowed more than two goals - for the first time since a 3-2 defeat to Calgary on Oct. 30. Thomas had a 1.66 goals-against average in his previous seven starts.
"Things weren't clicking right off the bat," he said. "As things went on we played with more urgency, just maybe a little too late."
While the Bruins failed to rally from a slow start, on the other end of the Empire State, the Islanders (9-11-2) were taking the opposite route to defeat. They took a two-goal lead into the third period at home against Pittsburgh, but surrendered four goals - three to Evgeni Malkin - in the final 20 minutes of a 5-3 loss.
The Islanders have squandered third-period leads in four of their last five games.
"We've definitely learned our lesson this year," defenseman Andy Sutton said. "There is a lot of talent in this league, and if you sit back just the littlest bit - it might not even be noticeable to the eye - teams are going to take advantage of it."
Despite the late-game lapses, New York has been playing quality hockey recently. After going 2-6-1 in October, the Isles are 7-5-1 this month. They had won five of six games before losing to the Penguins.
Goaltender Joey MacDonald has earned all seven wins in November, tying him with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist for the most in the league this month.
The Islanders will need to decide after this contest whether to keep top draft pick Josh Bailey for the rest of the season or return him to his junior team. The 19-year-old rookie has yet to score a goal in eight NHL games, but has assists in three consecutive contests including two on Wednesday.
The Bruins took three of four meetings between these teams last season, including both matchups in Boston. They have won four of the last six games against the Islanders following a six-game losing streak in the series.