Lackluster efforts in their early road games over the past three seasons have helped contribute to the New York Islanders' lengthy playoff drought.
With an abbreviated schedule, the Islanders know it's even more important to have better road performances to start this season, beginning with a five-game trip that starts Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
New York (1-1-0) hasn't reached the postseason since 2006-07, which is tied for league's third-longest active drought behind Toronto's seven consecutive seasons and Edmonton's six straight. The Islanders' 0-5-2 mark in their first seven road games in 2011-12 didn't help, neither did a 2-11-3 record in their first 16 in 2010-11 or a 1-4-4 start in 2009-10.
"It's such a short season so we've got to be good on the road," center Frans Nielsen said. "We've got to make sure we're strong when we go out on the road. You can't fall behind. The season is too short for that."
New York heads into its road trip after holding on for a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay on Monday. The Islanders scored three times in the second period and held a 4-0 lead early in the third before giving up three goals in a span of 5:38.
Matt Martin thinks the win could be the first of many for the club and expects his team to end its postseason drought.
"We feel like we have the talent and character in this room to make the playoffs. No one really believes in us, but they can say whatever they want. We know we can do this," he said. "We're excited for the season. We just have to find ways to win hockey games and just keep building."
The Islanders won 5-2 in their most recent matchup with the Maple Leafs, in Toronto on March 20, after dropping three straight in the series. Matt Moulson had a pair of third-period goals in that victory and John Tavares matched a career high with three assists.
The Maple Leafs lost their only home game, 2-1 to Buffalo on Monday, but have won both of their other contests. The latest was a 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday in which James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, including the tiebreaker in the second period.
Nikolai Kulemin had a career-high three assists while helping Toronto (2-1-0) bounce back from its lone defeat. Tyler Bozak also scored for the second time in three games, and Mikhail Grabovski, the team's third-leading scorer last season, picked up his first points in 2012-13 with a goal and an assist.
"I think we've showed we can play the rugged defensive game and tonight we have the ability to score as well," forward Clarke MacArthur said. "If we can find a way to use both things every night, you've got a good team and a good chance every night."
The Maple Leafs, though, lost Joffrey Lupul to a fractured forearm when he was hit by teammate Dion Phaneuf's slapshot in the second period. Lupul, who signed a five-year contract extension this past weekend, is expected to be re-evaulated Thursday.
"It's tough but what can you do, you've got to move on," MacArthur said.
Lupul, who had a career-high 67 points last season, hadn't recorded a point so far this season.
Grabovski registered a season-high four points (one goal, three assists) in a 4-3 overtime road win against the Islanders on Jan. 24, 2012.
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