David Ullstrom is tripped in the third period by Eric...

David Ullstrom is tripped in the third period by Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes. (Feb. 11, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

We are less than one month into the 2013 season, and already dire words are coming from the Islanders' dressing room.

"It feels weird to say the next game's a must-win," Travis Hamonic said after a bizarre 6-4 loss to the Hurricanes, the Isles' fifth straight defeat. "We've got to look at it that way. We have to make sure we stop this."

The Isles lost the previous four games in no small part because of their power-play failures, going 0-for-22. They went 4-for-5 last night, putting pucks on net and diving for rebounds and deflections.

But at even strength, the Islanders were a mess. The Hurricanes scored half their goals on non-stick deflections, the weirdest being Alex Semin's goal at 5:33 of the third to snap a 3-3 tie.

Semin flung a high pass through the slot that banked off Hamonic's chest and went right under the crossbar, behind Rick DiPietro. Carolina scored four times in the third to erase a 3-2 Isles lead after two, including the tying score 30 seconds into the period after DiPietro, making only his second start of the season, misplayed a puck behind his net. The turnover led to Jiri Tlusty's tap-in.

"I have no comment on the goaltending," coach Jack Capuano said.

After Eric Staal scored on a deflection off his skate at 9:09 of the third to give Carolina a 5-3 lead, the 9,622 at the Coliseum showered DiPietro (25 saves) and the Isles with boos. Matt Moulson's second power-play goal of the game brought the Isles within 5-4 at 11:32, but the lone power-play failure came in the final six minutes and Tlusty scored into an empty net with 10.3 seconds to play.

"I don't know how many games teams have lost when they've scored four power-play goals," said Moulson, who added an assist on John Tavares' second-period goal and scored to make it 3-2 off a pretty feed from Brad Boyes at 7:46 of the second. "They got a couple lucky bounces, but we can't put ourselves in that position. You have to find a way to win."

Instead, the Islanders have found ways to lose. They outshot the Sabres 43-15 on Saturday, only to lose by a goal; were outworked at Madison Square Garden, couldn't complete a three-goal rally against Pittsburgh and lost a tight game late to the Devils.

So the Isles are in the same precarious early-season position they found themselves in during the previous two seasons: A snowballing losing streak threatens to make them irrelevant before the halfway mark.

The Islanders return to the Garden on Thursday to face a stabilizing Rangers team, then return home -- where they are 1-5-0 this season -- to face the red-hot Devils on Saturday. By the time Presidents Day rolls around, Capuano's job could be in jeopardy and teams could be sniffing around potential late-season rentals.

"It's getting repetitious standing up here," Capuano said. "I thought some guys were soft tonight. We didn't win many puck battles . . . I don't know how much you can shake up."

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