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New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: Aiming for the Florida sweep

Tonight, it's the NHL's original Florida team.

Islanders Future escapes Islanders Past.
Islanders Future escapes Islanders Past.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders already completed a tough, back-to-back, shootout-aided sweep of southern California this month. Can they add the NHL's other sunny outpost to the list?

They already got the shootout part out of the way in last night's win in Sunrise, which nearly slipped away as they let the Panthers erase a 3-1 third-period lead and force extra time. Tonight poses a tougher match in a rested Tampa Bay Lightning squad. They'd be wise to avoid the penalty trouble they stepped into last night.

Islanders (11-5, 2nd/Metro) @ Lightning (11-4-2, 2nd/New Atlantic)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+2 (where?!) | WRHU
[St. Pete or Tampa or
newspaper palace or forum or French film] Arena
Likin' it Raw: Raw Charge

If you missed garik16's latest neutral zone analysis (through 15 games, excluding the Panthers game), the Isles have shown progress by that metric -- but a tough series of games against the Lightning and Penguins looms. Overall, good stuff:

The Isles are now at 51.9% Neutral Zone Fenwick Close*, which means they're winning the neutral zone pretty convincingly.

But also check that post for interesting individual figures, some of which may surprise you.

As for tonight, Chad Johnson takes his turn in goal, while Cal Clutterbuck is a game time decision after taking a puck off the back of the leg last night. If he can't go, Cory Conacher would get to face his old team. Hopefully someone disembowels Radko Gudas.

We saw how bipolar the record has been this season, from the 4-0 start, to the three-game losing streak feeding into the Western swing, to the current five-game win streak that finished that road trip and began this one. Now they face four consecutive games against good teams in the Lightning and Penguins, so the risk of more narrative adjustment is high.

About the Lightning

These are not Phil Esposito's or William Davidson's or Oren Koules and Len Barrie's Tampa Bay Lightning.

Granted, they've made yet another regrettable sartorial choice with their latest third jersey "offering," a Kings knockoff that is somehow made even less interesting via the "BOLTS" wordmark.

But the Michael Jordan of hockey is now toiling in Philadelphia. The Lightning employ as many ex-Islanders (and ex-Rangers) as the Flyers do. And though they missed the playoffs five of the final six seasons in the lowly and defunct Southeast Division, the last season-plus offers a keen difference: The Lightning are competing. The Lightning are winning. In an actually decent division. And the management of the roster is, and you'll never believe this, largely sound. (We'll give them a pass on the Ryan Callahan contract.)

(h/t Raw Charge for the muse)

Expected Lines from

Jonathan Drouin is just the latest skilled young forward to join the party in Tampa:

Valtteri FilppulaSteven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonNikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin – Vladislav NamestnikovAlex Killorn
Brenden MorrowBrian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Matthew CarleAnton Stralman
Andrej SustrEric Brewer
Jason GarrisonRadko Gudas

Former Isles coach and current Lightning assistant Rick Bowness on the Isles via the Tampa Bay Times:

"They've won four in a row now on the road, their depth, they're balanced, they've got good goaltending, this is a very solid hockey club," Bowness said. "And they're strong in all areas, good speciality teams, good depth, good speed. Their size, they're gritty, we're going to see a lot like we did against San Jose."

That report also has Ben Bishop starting in goal, with Ondrej Palat a game time decision like Clutterbuck. Either way, we'll be seeing the Lightning at basically full force tonight.

Ol' Friend Nabby

Speaking of Raw Charge, if you missed this earlier in the month, here's a fun look at Evgeni Nabokov's style versus most current goalies.

No Nabokov tonight (unless the Isles really get to Bishop), but there's always the rematch next week:

Nabby, incidentally, isn't surprised by the Isles' 11-5 start:

For sure.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Don't pick Nabby.