The Islanders faced a Panthers team Tuesday night that was coming off a loss to the Rangers the night before, a team that was 1-6-1 in its last eight and in danger of falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
It was the sort of game and sort of team the Islanders have dominated this season. But a 4-2 loss that featured a host of giveaways and missed opportunities left the Islanders with their third three-game losing streak of the season at a lousy time. With 14 games over the next 24 days, the Islanders needed to bank Tuesday night's two points.
Instead, they are left wondering if Kyle Okposo's prolonged absence and the penalty-kill's profoundly poor performance make this losing streak different from the others this season.
"They did a good job getting it deep, getting extended zone time on us, forcing mistakes," Frans Nielsen said. "They took our game to us, basically."
Anders Lee made the most of his first game on the top line, scoring twice, including a trademark deflection past Al Montoya on the power play to tie the score at 2 after two periods.
The Islanders killed off a power play that bridged the end of the second and the beginning of the third, but had to try and kill another one just 2:01 into the third when Lubomir Visnovsky's giveaway led to a good scoring chance and a high-sticking call on Cal Clutterbuck.
Then came a familiar sight from any of the past seven games: The Panthers won the faceoff to start the power play, worked the puck around for a Nick Bjugstad shot that Jaroslav Halak stopped and the rebound went right out to an untouched Jimmy Hayes, who jammed in his second of the game at 2:10 for the eventual winner.
Montoya made 32 saves against his former team, but he left a host of juicy rebounds that the Isles could not convert. They have totaled five goals in the three straight defeats, another reminder of how much the Islanders miss Okposo, who is out another four to six weeks.
"You've got to find a way to score," Jack Capuano said. "Certain guys are just passing chances up. I don't get it."
The penalty-kill has allowed goals on 10 of the last 19 times it faced a power play, leaving the Islanders with a league-worst 72.7-percent success rate. On the heels of last season's 29th rank on the penalty- kill with a few different players and a different assistant coach, Greg Cronin, in charge, the consistency is baffling.
"If we were at the top of the league on the PK, we'd probably have about six losses total this season," Johnny Boychuk said. "You can say it's partly luck, but at the end of the day you can't be that unlucky. You have to be better."
The Islanders embark on a three-game road trip that starts in Philadelphia on Thursday; Tuesday night's defeat marks the first time all season the Islanders lost consecutive games at Nassau Coliseum.
It also dropped the Islanders to 11-2-1 against Eastern Conference teams outside the playoff picture and to 9-1-0 against teams coming off a game the night before.
"We need to play with more confidence, we lost lots of pucks tonight, me most of all," said Visnovsky, who had an ugly night. "This is not our hockey."