Another season series comes to a close as the Islanders try to salvage their first point in four tries against the Lightning. Of the completed conference series so far, the Islanders are 2-2 against Carolina and Buffalo, 1-2-1 against Florida, and 1-1-2 against Washington.
To loosen things up at practice yesterday, Scott Gordon had them doing some wacky drills like soccer on skates, as well as an "invisible puck" drill that tested the imagination. Hard to describe in words, but there is some video and commentary in the pre-game interviews on the official site.
Today, it appears Martin will be tried on a line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, providing a kid combo and a little protection for the two young guns that many fans have been clamoring for all season. As always, though, today's game likely comes down to how the Islanders handle the trio of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The three have combined for 17 points (6-11-17) and a plus-10 in the previous three meetings.
Also at the official site and in the gameday program: Matt Martin discussing his second NHL game in Pittsburgh, stepping up against Michael Rupp's attempts to engage Andy Sutton, and answering Tyler Kennedy's invitation to fight:
"Before I ever started fighting in junior, my father told me to be the aggressor or else I'd be the one on my back. ... Trevor Gillies told me to slow down in my fights and concentrate on geting leverage on the other guy, making it easier to take advantage of their mistakes."
He also mentioned the thrill of getting stick-taps from Andy Sutton, Mark Streit and Doug Weight in the locker room after his first NHL bout.
Just Checked In to See What Condition My Condition Was In
Dwayne Roloson has received all three previous starts against the Bolts, and his results are not good: 4.01 GAA and a .855 save percentage. Does that and the Penguins game make it Rick DiPietro's turn? With back-to-back games this weekend to close out the pre-Olympic schedule, I suspect there's a start for each of them unless the Martin Biron Trade Showcase gets another run. [Update: Indeed! The Biron Trade Showcase continues as DiPietro misses the weekend with the flu.]
The Lightning, meanwhile, are simply on a roll. At 7-2-1 in their last 10, they've been charging into a better playoff bubble spot and won four in a row -- including the easy 5-2 win over the Isles -- before dropping a 5-4 game against the Bruins Thursday. Even in that one, they came back from a 5-0 deficit to make it a game. Antero Niittymaki was the victim for the first four in that one, yet Mike Smith took the harsh "loss" for allowing the fifth goal.
It's been a rough month, and no doubt Gordon's practice fun yesterday was intended to change the vibe for a team that has had so much trouble converting its scoring chances lately. As we've discussed around here, the playoff chase is for all purposes done, but it would sure help things pause on a good note if the Islanders could steal points this weekend at home against two hot teams.
This is Nate Thompson's second meeting against his former mates. He's been getting faceoff work for the Lightning but still carries a minus-17 thanks to his Islanders tenure. Richard Park carries that unflattering torch now for the Isles at minus-20, but you know who else is in that territory?:
John Tavares: -16
Bruno Gervais: -16
Kyle Okposo: -11
Blake Comeau: -10
Brendan Witt in absentia: -18
Not surprisingly, Frans Nielsen (plus-11) and Josh Bailey (plus-9) top the list. According to Behind the Net's ratings, Nielsen has faced the toughest quality of competition in compiling that mark, while Okposo has faced the second-toughest. For 21-year-old Okposo and 19-year-old Tavares, it's all part of the development curve as a featured player, one hopes.
Prediction: Martin has a word with someone while he's on the Tavares-Okposo line.