(SportsNetwork.com) - The last time the New York Islanders opened a season this strong was back in 2001-02, when current general manager Garth Snow was still suiting up as one of the club's goaltenders.
The Isles will get to put their fast start to the test on Friday, when they visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks for a showdown at United Center.
New York is 2-0-1 to begin the season, a long way from the club's start in 2001-02, when the Islanders went 9-0-1 with a tie before finally suffering a regulation loss. Still, the quick start to the 2013-14 campaign is important for the Isles, a team that missed out on the playoffs for five straight seasons before returning to the postseason in the spring of 2013.
The Isles are coming off a lopsided victory in their last outing, as they pounded the visiting Phoenix Coyotes by a 6-1 score on Tuesday. John Tavares, a finalist for the Hart Trophy last season, scored his first two goals of 2013-14 to lead the way in the rout.
Josh Bailey recorded three points with a goal and two assists in Tuesday's triumph, while his line mates Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner added three assists apiece. The trio is off to a red-hot start this season, accounting for 15 of New York's 30 points in the early going.
"We always have a lot of speed on our line, and that helps in the transition game," Grabner told his team's official website. "We've scored a few goals off the rush."
Peter Regin also scored and assisted on Matt Donovan's tally in the win over the Coyotes, while Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves to pick up the win.
Fast start or no, the Isles have a tough task ahead of them Friday evening in the Windy City. This is the first meeting between the clubs since a visiting Chicago team downed the Isles 3-2 in overtime back on Dec. 8, 2011. It was the third straight win for the Blackhawks in the series overall, and the Isles also have lost two in a row at United Center.
In fact, New York is just 3-11-1 with a tie in its past 16 trips to Chicago.
The Isles hope Cal Clutterbuck's season debut can help change their fortunes against the Hawks on Friday. The physical forward was acquired from Minnesota for prospect Nino Niederreiter over the summer, but a cut to his leg during the preseason had delayed his Islanders debut.
Clutterbuck, who originally was expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with the injury sustained on Sept. 17, had four goals, six assists and 27 penalty minutes in 42 games for Minnesota last season.
While New York tries to build off its quick start, the defending champions will try to avoid a third straight loss on Friday. Chicago began this season with a 6-4 home win over Washington, but has since lost consecutive outings against Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
After losing a shootout decision to visiting Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Blackhawks were dealt a 3-2 regulation loss Wednesday night in St. Louis. The Blues, who are expected to be Chicago's main competition for this season's Central Division crown, received the game-winning goal from Alex Steen with just 21.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It was a brutal loss," Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. "Unacceptable."
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each posted a power-play score and Patrick Sharp picked up a pair of helpers for the Blackhawks, while Corey Crawford played well in defeat, making 31 saves.
Chicago's 1-1-1 start to this season is obviously a far cry from the club's 21-0-3 record through its first 24 games during the shortened 2013 campaign.
This evening's tilt does kick off a brief two-game homestand for the Blackhawks, who were 18-3-3 as the home team in 2013. In fact, beginning with Friday's test Chicago gets to play four of its next five on home ice, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Blackhawks work out the early-season kinks during its home-heavy schedule over the next several days.