The Islanders begin a tough road trip in Tampa with teams breathing down their neck all around them in the playoff chase. The Lightning are still in second place (and seven points back of Boston) in the Atlantic, but they have been surging lately, including 7-2-1 in their last 10. They haven’t lost in regulation since Jan. 16.
The Islanders’ win over the Kings in Brooklyn briefly moved them back up to third in the Metro, but Columbus (69 points) quickly passed them again, leaving the Islanders (68 points) one point behind going into tonight’s action.
Also lurking nearby in the wild card chase are the Flyers, Hurricanes (65 points) and Panthers (64 points). As we’ll likely note many times over the next two busy months, the Islanders have three games in hand on Columbus and two on Carolina and Philadelphia.
So objects in mirror are not as close as they appear, but the compressed schedule and some tough opponents can quickly change that perceived games-in-hand advantage.
Tonight the Panthers are playing the Penguins (71 points) and the Flyers are playing the Capitals, so lots of intra-Metro and wild card opponents affecting each other on tonight’s schedule. Columbus is also in action, hosting the Avalanche, while the Hurricanes are in Vegas.
The big topic for the Lightning is the loss of Ryan McDonagh to injury, which forces some adjustments on their blueline. Learn more about that and the Lightning at Raw Charge.
Lightning lines from morning skate #NYIvsTBL— Caley Chelios (@CaleyChelios) February 8, 2020
“Tampa has a real good focus and they’re playing good hockey. They’re a deep team that’s going to be a Stanley Cup threat. But playing good teams makes you better.” - Barry Trotz #NYIvsTBL pic.twitter.com/455f6gNvf5— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 8, 2020
The Islanders are highly unlikely to change what’s been working, so expect the same lineup and combos with the possible exception of Semyon Varlamov taking a turn in net. That would look like this:
Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey
Michael Dal Colle — Derick Brassard — Kieffer Bellows
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Leo Komarov
Nick Leddy — Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews — Scott Mayfield
Noah Dobson — Johnny Boychuk
If you missed it, Sebastian Aho is again back up with the team as an available defenseman in case an injury occurs on this trip, which continues Monday in Washington before the Isles are back at home Tuesday against the Flyers.