The Boston Bruins looked all but unbeatable - especially at home - for two full months, but they're suddenly scrambling to avoid their first three-game losing streak since October.
Hosting the stumbling Ottawa Senators seems likely to help.
Coming off their first back-to-back regulation defeats of the season, the Bruins will try to get back on track on Thursday against Ottawa, which has lost six of seven entering the finale of its eight-game road trip.
The Bruins and Senators both totaled 94 points last season, earning the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. But even then, they seemed to be headed in opposite directions, as Ottawa was immediately swept by Pittsburgh while Boston pushed top-seeded Montreal to a seventh game before losing in the first round.
This season, the Senators (13-19-6) have slumped to last place in the Northeast Division while the Bruins (29-7-4) have surged to the top of the East.
Boston did that with an impressive 27-3-1 run from Oct. 25-Jan. 1, a stretch that finished with 10 straight wins overall and a 14-game winning streak at home. But all of those spurts ended in recent days, with the Bruins' powerful offense slowing down in a pair of losses.
After a 4-2 home defeat to Buffalo on Saturday, the Bruins were shut out for the first time all season on Tuesday, losing 1-0 to the Minnesota Wild at the TD Banknorth Garden. They had averaged 4.6 goals during their 10-game winning streak.
"I don't want to say a slump. We've lost two games," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We've kind of lost that confidence."
Boston has lost three straight just once this season, going 0-1-2 from Oct. 20-23.
While the Bruins continue to play without injured forwards Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm, the production of their other scorers has slowed.
After an 18-game point streak, Phil Kessel now has just three goals and no assists in his last seven games, while David Krejci has gone consecutive games without a point after ranking second in the league with 32 points in 20 games from Nov. 19-Jan. 1.
"We have a lot of players that are fighting the puck, not always making good decisions," Julien told the Bruins' official Web site. "... I think right now it's about us fighting through it and getting our game back to where it was when things were going well."
Boston's defense was still solid against the Wild, as Manny Fernandez made 23 saves to lower his goals-against average to 1.96 - second in the NHL. Tim Thomas, whose 2.13 GAA ranks fourth, could return to the crease Thursday.
The Senators continue to have problems offensively, having scored an NHL-low 88 goals. They've managed just 16 goals in the first seven games of their road trip, going 1-5-1
After Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Buffalo, they're 4-13-3 on the road this season.
"It's tough. We're struggling," said forward Jason Spezza, who scored both of the Senators' goals. "We're in other teams' buildings and things aren't going our way. ... It hasn't been a fun trip."
Aside from the top line of Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, no Senators forward has more than 12 points.
Ottawa's defense has also faltered lately, with goalie Alex Auld going 0-5-2 with a 4.38 GAA in his last seven starts. Auld spent part of last season with Boston, going 9-7-5 with a 2.32 GAA for the Bruins.
This game will be the Senators' first trip of the season to Boston, where they were 2-2-0 last season. The Bruins won 4-2 at Ottawa on Oct. 18.
The Senators will be without forward Jarkko Ruutu, who will begin a two-game suspension for biting Buffalo's Andrew Peters.