The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders are separated by just five points at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
But the host Islanders will have the chance to close the gap early starting Monday night, when the longtime rivals are slated to begin a back-to-back, home-and-home seriesin Elmont, N.Y.
Both teams were off Sunday after suffering home losses to division foes on Saturday. The Flyers fell to the New York Rangers, 3-2, and the Islanders were blanked by the Washington Capitals, 2-0.
The Islanders' loss ended a five-game point streak (4-0-1), and they have collected at least one point in 10 of their last 13 games (6-3-4) since an eight-game regulation losing streak ended Nov. 26.
Despite the surge, the path back to playoff contention for the Islanders remains long and narrow. New York, which made the NHL semifinals each of the last two seasons, has played a league-low 30 games due to three COVID-19 pauses.
The Islanders have five games in hand on the Boston Bruins, who occupy the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. However, New York is 18 points behind Boston.
The consecutive games against the Flyers -- the teams will face off in Philadelphia on Tuesday night -- mark the start of a stretch in which the Islanders play six of their next nine games against a quartet of teams (the Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken and Ottawa Senators) that entered Sunday with 33 points or fewer.
"Yeah, we sit up here and talk about we're in a hole," Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said Saturday. "We've got to dig ourselves out. It's tough. We've got to get those points. We've got to start racking up wins, racking up points and we didn't today."
The Flyers' loss on Saturday was their seventh straight (0-5-2), and they are 5-13-5 since opening the season 8-4-2.
The seven-game losing streak isn't even their longest of the season; they dropped 10 in a row (0-8-2) from Nov. 18 through Dec. 8. Head coach Alain Vigneault was fired following the eighth loss in that stretch, a 7-1 rout at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and replaced by Mike Yeo.
This extended tailspin has been defined by near-misses for the Flyers, who have lost three straight by the same 3-2 score. Philadelphia held a 2-1 lead in the third period against the Rangers on Saturday and squandered a 2-0 third-period lead against the San Jose Sharks before losing in overtime on Jan. 8.
"It's challenging when you're dealing with the stress and the emotion of going through a losing streak like this," Yeo said Saturday. "There were a lot of good things in the hockey game, but obviously at critical moments, we make that one little play or don't make it or don't do that one thing that gives you the opportunity to close out the hockey game."
--Field Level Media