Sens, Isles out to tighten defenses, end losing streaks

Neither the New York Islanders nor the Ottawa Senators are ready to worry over their defensive struggles in the early weeks of the season.

A pair of teams looking to shore things up in their own zones and end losing streaks are slated to meet Thursday night, when the Islanders host the Senators in a battle of Eastern Conference rivals in Elmont, N.Y.

Both teams were off Wednesday after losing at home on Tuesday, when the Islanders fell to the Colorado Avalanche 7-4 and the Senators couldn’t complete a third-period comeback in a 6-4 defeat to the Buffalo Sabres.

The loss was the third straight (0-2-1) for the Islanders, who allowed just one goal in winning their first two games. But they have been outscored 17-9 during their skid, which has been bookended by games against two of the NHL’s most potent teams. The Avalanche entered Wednesday with 28 goals, tied for the second-most in the league.

The Islanders surrendered five goals twice in a three-game span just twice last season, when they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs. New York entered this season having allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL over the previous five campaigns.

“That’s one of the best offensive teams,” Islanders right winger Cal Clutterbuck told Newsday after the Avalanche iced the victory with a pair of empty-netters in the final minute. “Sometimes the pucks are going to go in and you’re not going to be able to hold a team to one or two every night. Sometimes, you’ve got to be able to keep pace and we were just one short.”

A porous defense is nothing new for the Senators, who allowed 1,272 goals the previous five seasons while extending their postseason drought to six years, the third-longest in the NHL behind the Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.

Ottawa has allowed at least five goals in each of its three losses this season and was outscored by a combined 11-6 in falling to the Red Wings and Sabres since Saturday. Detroit leads the NHL with 34 goals.

Buffalo raced out to a 3-0 lead fewer than five minutes into the second period Tuesday and led 5-1 at the end of the two before the Senators scored three times in the final four-plus minutes of the third. Tage Thompson locked up the win for the Sabres by scoring an empty-net goal with 23 seconds remaining.

“It’s not time to panic — we did a lot of good things,” Senators right winger Claude Giroux said. “It’s definitely frustrating the way the first two periods went, but we know what we’re capable of and we need to look at a few things, how we can get better and be more consistent in how we play.”