Game 34 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Islanders

Having edged the Red Wings on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (19-11-3, 39 PTS) will finish off its current road swing tonight against the New York Islanders (9-19-6, 24 PTS), which came up short in the shootout after failing to score on the Canadiens in regulation or overtime.

It’s a matchup — the first of the three between the two clubs this season — that, on paper, seems to favor a Bolts squad that, after spinning its heels through a slate of tough draws in the wake of Steven Stamkos’ injury, has settled into a bit of an even-strength groove — over the past handful of games — in terms of carrying the balance of play and generating opportunities.

Yes, Tampa Bay’s finishing and results have been uneven but the underlying process, for a team still contending with the absence of its elite goalscorer and the bedrock its defense is built upon, has largely been good. Apart from a disastrous night of penalty killing against the Caps and a power play that has mostly sputtered for the past several weeks, the bulk of the remaining minutes, though far from perfect, has been very encouraging.

Enter the hot mess that is the New York Islanders, which is currently mired in a 1-6-3 run and has managed, with its play so far, to make its admirable postseason showing against the Pens earlier this year close to a distant memory. Not pleased with how his club came of the gate, general manager Garth Snow turned to the trade market in an early-season effort to jump-start the Isles, completing a deal that, to this point, has changed the team’s fortunes not a bit for the better. Snow may very well have punched his own pink slip unwittingly as it will be a tremendous blunder if all New York ends up getting out of Matt Moulson and its first-round selection in the next draft is a portion of a season from Thomas Vanek, who is a pending unrestricted free agent.

What, exactly, ails the Islanders? The data suggests a combination of factors with the most glaring issues stemming from its penalty killing and goaltending. The Islanders have allowed a league-worst 30 goals (at a rate of 11 per 60 minutes of time spent 4v5) while shorthanded and the goaltending tandem of Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin, even at evens, has been almost equally miserable. Not helping matters is a possession game this season has tailed off since last and an offense that, collectively, has had its struggles (5v5, 5v5 “Close”, 5v4), even despite boasting three players (John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen) with 25+ points and a fourth, the traded-for Thomas Vanek scoring within an outburst of a point-per-game since being acquired.

Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins outlasted the Toronto Maple Leafs without most of its regular rearguards in action. The Lightning may be missing a key component up front and on the rear and several other role players but it’s not a built-in excuse. There’s a carrot dangling in front of the Bolts in the form of what amounts to a “winnable” road game ahead of a couple matches and some rest and recuperation in Tampa, a couple more points there for the taking in order to build a bit of a cushion in this fourth ten-game segment of the season. It’s the kind of opportunity clubs that don’t find themselves scrambling for their playoff lives take advantage of with regularity over the course of a season.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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