Oh the stages of the season, underlined by December's dreary light: After the Islanders' first meeting with the Lightning in late October, an OT win that would be their last "W" for 14 games, they were actually atop the conference for an elusive, illusive moment. Next time around, in mid-November they'd already gone winless in 10 and were debuting a new coach, who saw that streak hit 11 that night. Tonight, a Lightning win ties them for first in the Southeast with the Capitals, while an Islanders win would be good for tying New Jersey in 29th overall -- eight points behind the nearest combatant.
Tampa Bay Lightning (19-10-4) @ New York Islanders (6-18-6)
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
7 p.m. | MSG+, NHL audio - WRHU 88.7
Saw Koules-Barrie Circus and lived to tell about it: Raw Charge
Today, injuries (and suspension) add their own toll: The Islanders' litany adds Mike Mottau for the season and Rick DiPietro for the swelling, meaning Nathan Lawson likely gets at least one more NHL start tonight or tomorrow, if not plenty more. Matt Martin requires a temporary Bridgeport replacement, news of which will surface any moment now. [Update, obviously, they surfaced. More after the jump...]
The Lightning have Vincent Lecavalier back from his broken hand, but they're without Steve Downie (ankle) and
Dan Ellis (knee) [Edit: I have goalie dyslexia, apparently; it's Mike Smith with the knee injury; #danellisproblems remains healthy], who started in the two previous meetings. (He was opposite DiPietro in the Isles win, Roloson in the Isles loss.)
The tone of discussion here today will surely turn based on who replaces Martin, an already popular player among fans. With his two-game suspension for the high blind hit on Vernon Fiddler you've lost an energy guy who hits a lot and gets the opposition thinking more about him and less about the task at hand. That's not a role with an obvious replacement candidate in the organization, but it's also not a role with a lot of minutes to offer. Whoever comes up will have to be worked in perhaps sparsely by Jack Capuano, whose lines were unchanged at practice the previous few days.
[UPDATE: Indeed, Josh Bailey gets the call-up. So much for my wisdom.]
Josh Bailey's responded exactly as hoped at Bridgeport, but no need to end that development experiment now. Rhett Rakhshani has also excelled (with Bailey's help) and got his NHL debut earlier this month. Bridgeport doesn't play again until after Christmas, so no harm there. In any case, another callup would mean either spot duty or bumping someone like Jon Sim, who's had a couple of nice games providing some physicality next to Rob Schremp Hockey and Blake Comeau.
St. Louis and Stamkos: Yikes.
It's a testament to the two Tampa Bay stars who don't make $10 million that the Lightning are still doing so well despite goaltending that has been so bad. Neither Ellis nor Mike Smith is a guy who's held on to a #1 NHL job for any serious length of time, and maybe they're showing why this year or maybe one of them just needs a break and a challenge like the other guy getting hurt.
Last meeting though, it didn't matter: While the Islanders had home ice line-matching advantage, Guy Boucher simply split up Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos and watched the Islanders struggle to check both. Frans Nielsen was tasked more often with Stamkos, and St. Louis lit up the scoresheet. So it goes. Stamkos just notched his 100th goal before age 21.
It's over-simplifying things to say the key tonight is stopping St. Louis and Stamkos -- and doing either is simply not simple at all -- but that probably is what it comes down to: If either is allowed to run wild, the Isles don't have the firepower to catch up, poor goaltending or not. But if Nielsen and Radek Martinek are able to keep those two somewhat at bay, they've got a chance to grab a lead or two and make it count.
- Islanders official preview, Schremp-heavy
- NHL.com preview
- Michael Fornabaio's Bridgeport chat from yesterday
- Roloson wasn't bothered by Lawson's start the way many fans were.
- How Frans found hockey (and captured my heart.) (Okay they left that part out.)
- Elliotte Friedman's always good 30 thoughts, with talk of development on Subban and Spezza
From that Newsday Roloson article:
"Some guys like to have feedback. Nate's a pretty relaxed guy, so he wanted to hear from me, to talk whenever he could," Roloson said. "Going into the shootout was tough, because you want to tell him about certain guys and what they like to do, but then if they don't do it, you didn't exactly help. It's tough when you haven't seen guys before."
Maybe he should have stuck with the ol' classic, "Don't think, meat."
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