December is a time of happiness and cheer for most. This month has been anything but that for the lowly New York Islanders.
The Islanders try to end an eight-game losing streak and record their first December victory Saturday night when they face another struggling team - the Nashville Predators.
A second straight season without a playoff berth seemed likely for the Islanders (10-19-3) before this year even began. The likelihood of that is even greater now that they have fallen 12 points behind eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are challenging Tampa Bay for the league's worst record.
New York actually exceeded expectations early this season, starting 10-12-2 despite the absence of No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro. Since then, however, the Islanders have gone 0-7-1 in eight games this month, including a 4-1 loss at Minnesota on Friday.
Richard Park scored the lone goal for New York, which was held to a season-low 16 shots, including three in the second period.
"You have to throw pucks on net and hope for those ugly goals," Islanders goaltender Joey MacDonald said. "You're not going to score if you don't throw anything on net."
The Islanders, who have been outscored 39-16 during the losing streak, haven't gone winless in nine straight since Nov. 30-Dec. 18, 1999. They last dropped nine in a row during a 10-game skid from Dec. 22-Jan. 12, 1998.
MacDonald kept the Islanders close for two periods Friday before giving up three goals on 13 shots over the final 20 minutes. He finished with 33 saves in his seventh consecutive loss.
Islanders center Doug Weight assisted on Park's goal, leaving him two points shy of 1,000.
Defenseman Andy Sutton, the Islanders' only player on the active roster with a positive plus-minus rating, hurt his foot blocking a shot in the first period and did not return.
"He's our best player," coach Scott Gordon said. "With him gone, our defense was overtaxed."
Nashville (15-13-3) has lost four of its last five games, with the biggest problem an offense that has scored nine goals in that span.
"The bottom line is we haven't scored a lot of goals lately," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We've got to get some production from our top guys. We have gotten zero from them the last few games. There are some guys not pulling their weight, and they need to step up."
The players Trotz is referring to likely are forwards Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont and Martin Erat - three of the team's top four scorers. Arnott has gone seven games without a goal, Dumont hasn't scored in his past four contests and Erat has been limited to one goal in 15 games.
Vernon Fiddler had Nashville's lone tally in a 2-1 loss to visiting Phoenix on Thursday, wasting another strong performance from Dan Ellis, who stopped 25 shots.
Ellis has been much better lately after struggling earlier this season. His 2.30 goals-against average and .914 save percentage over his last nine appearances are big improvements from his first 15 games (3.02, .898).
The Predators have won four straight against the Islanders since a 4-3 overtime loss on Oct. 15, 2002. Nashville is 4-2-0 at home in the all-time series.