NEW YORK (AP) — Though the New York Islanders are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve been playing at a much higher level lately.
The Islanders look to continue their surge Monday when they face the Florida Panthers, who are trying to win their fourth straight in the series and third in a row on the road for the first time since early last season.
Despite being in last place in the Atlantic Division, the Islanders (22-30-7) have finally raised their play, winning five of six and going 7-3-0 this month.
Matt Moulson scored twice and Frans Nielsen added his NHL-best fifth short-handed goal. Newcomer Al Montoya, the sixth Islander to start in net this season, made 35 saves to become the first goaltender in team history to notch a shutout in his first start with the club.
“Who knows when the next chance is going to be?” said Montoya, called up from the AHL two days after being acquired from Phoenix on Feb. 9.
The hot stretch has been marked by impressive offensive production, as New York has scored 30 goals during its 5-1-0 stretch. The Islanders have recorded at least three goals in eight straight games, and they haven’t reached the three-goal mark in nine in a row since a 10-game run from Feb. 27-March 17, 1994.
While the Islanders have found success of late, they’ve had very little against the Panthers (25-26-7) recently.
Despite John Tavares’ first career hat trick, Florida snapped New York’s three-game winning streak and posted its eighth straight home victory in this matchup with a 4-3 win Oct. 23.
That began the Islanders’ franchise-record 0-11-3 skid, which included a 4-1 home loss to the Panthers on Nov. 20 that sent New York to a club-worst 12th straight defeat. Florida has taken six of the past seven overall meetings.
The Panthers make their final visit to Nassau Coliseum this season after beating Tampa Bay 3-2 in a shootout Saturday to begin a four-game trip.
Mike Santorelli, who scored a career-best two goals Nov. 20, had the tying score with three minutes left in regulation and netted the lone shootout goal.
Florida is 15-13-7 in one-goal games, with 17 of its last 19 decided by that margin.
“One thing that this team does is give the fans their money’s worth in effort,” coach Peter DeBoer said.
The Panthers’ last three-game road winning streak was a 4-0-0 stretch from Nov. 12-21, 2009.
Florida’s Tomas Vokoun seems likely to return to the net after Scott Clemmensen stopped 34 shots through overtime Saturday. Vokoun is 2-0-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average against the Islanders this season and 14-4-1 with a 1.86 GAA in his career versus New York.
Islanders rookie Michael Grabner has a team-best 10 goals in the last eight games, while Tavares has five goals and eight assists during that stretch.
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