Islanders Gameday: Ballad of Jeff Tambellini?

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New York Islanders (23-25-8, 13th/E) at Tampa Bay Lightning (23-21-11, 8th/E)
7:30 EST | [palace or paper or such] Forum | MSG+
Touch only when grounded: Raw Charge

With Josh Bailey out an estimated two weeks -- on the bright side, he gets the Olympic break to help heal his "upper body" -- one hopes a spot on left wing has opened up for Jeff Tambellini.

Tambellini hasn't played in over a month (Jan. 2 he had an assist in 8:02 of ice time) and has appeared in only two games since Dec. 9. That kind of cold storage is one curious way to handle a guy who's potted 7 goals in 24 games for a team that has trouble scoring. But the Isles have been nothing if not curious when handling this second-generation Islander.

Thankfully, Tambellini has handled his kryptonite enforcer-like treatment better than most. He hasn't popped off, he hasn't become a distraction. And with the way he's approached this situation over the last two seasons, I'd be surprised if he doesn't come out flying ... assuming he plays.

I would say this could be his last shot to make an on-ice statement to the Islanders, but then how many times has someone thought that about Tambellini? I've never been opposed to using the healthy scratch as motivation tool to help a guy like him along -- and it's clearly helped in the past -- but scratching for a whole month is, well yeah ... curious. Tambellini has certainly been responsible for some of the stops and starts in his development, but it seems just as he's evolved his game the last two years is when he's been converted to Use Only in Emergency status.

Of course, I should wait to say more until it's a reality. Who here would be only mildly surprised to hear that the Islanders replaced Bailey's 13 goals tonight in Tampa Bay not by slotting Tambellini in but by an emergency recall of, say, Trevor "Flyers Ointment" Gillies?

Life Without Witt

Speaking of assumptions, I also assume today begins life without Brendan Witt, for an undetermined time. Katie Strang reported he'd be assigned to Bridgeport when if unclaimed, but again -- with this team, I'll believe it when it happens. [Update: It happened. Witt cleared and is officially being assigned to the AHL. If we see him again with the Islanders a la Jon Sim, it wouldn't be until next year, when putting him back on the roster would not require re-entry waivers.]

Of course last night NHL Network ran one of those "All Access" compilations of audio which included footage of a mic'd Witt goofing around at practice -- "I oooowwn youuuuu!" he taunted his goaltender -- from a few years ago. That put a little close-to-home sting behind the roster move. His on-ice contributions have been insufficient, but you remember that the locker room loses a longtime character and leader with his departure.

With Witt waived and Bailey headed for the shelf, the roster has openings should you want to go dreaming of external additions.

Goalie Carousel

Another unknown after four days between games: Who gets the nod in goal? I still argue that Dwayne Roloson should get starter's treatment, and in any case, Rick DiPietro got the last start in the 2-0 loss in Florida.

Of course, this year Roloson is 0-2 against the Lightning, who have had little trouble dispatching the Isles in both meetings (4-0, 4-2). I'm not looking forward to the matchup for that reason. It seems the Lightning's three offensive stars, who combine to make just an average team on most nights -- 7-7 in January -- show their star powers whenever it's the Islanders on the other bench.

The Islanders will wrap up the season series with the Lightning before the Olympic break and, really, if they can't even the score against one of their fellow playoff bubble combatants, they probably don't deserve to be considered in that picture anymore.

Five pre-Olympic games to go, a five-game losing streak hanging over their heads, an 0-3 start to this four-game trip: We will know so much more by the time Valentine's Day shows its ugly Hallmark-fabricated head. But if the Isles don't break this slump now, we'll know plenty enough before then.

Prediction: Jeff Tambellini plays 10 minutes, is scratched next week.

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