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Lightning Hit Long Island Amid Latest Turmoil for the Islanders

There are several higher-profile games on tonight’s NHL docket but the Tampa Bay Lightning’s visit to Long Island has my undivided attention this evening (and would still, even were I not tasked with Bolts coverage, nor had I no stifled sentimental attachment to the Isles).

Both clubs have struggled of late, although that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of the hapless Islanders, 0-9-1 in their last ten and now under the command of a new head coach in Jack Capuano, who was handed the position on an interim basis after Isles’ brass made Scott Gordon the fall guy for their woeful start.

If a team in turmoil is always a dangerous one, what does that say for these Islanders? One would think they’d play some seriously desperate hockey tonight. That said, they’re still the Islanders and whether the players quit on Gordon (as True Hockey’s Andy Strickland reports in his latest installment of Rink Rats), or Gordon truly was the problem or owner Charles Wang and Garth Snow simply ignored the fact that, aside from a few talented youngsters, without injured key pieces Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit, chances for this team’s success were slim from day one, nothing seems to work for this franchise and there are no guarantees.

As for the Lightning, injuries have taken a toll recently and a red-hot start that saw them atop the Eastern Conference not all that long ago has been washed away by a 1-5-1 slide, leaving Tampa Bay barely in the East’s top eight. Of course, it’s still extremely early, with just 17 games crossed off the schedule and, since my ongoing encouragement is to wait until the 20-game mark to pass judgment, we’ll stick to that.

But for argument’s sake, consider this:

Last year’s Lightning squad was 7-4-6 after 17 games for 20 points to this year’s 8-7-2 for 18.

That team was 8-5-7 (23) at the indicative “quarter-pole” of 20 games.

This year’s club will need to manage to earn five points out of six in a tough three-game swing against the wild card Isles tonight, Philadelphia tomorrow and the Buffalo Sabres, who slowly appear to be getting their act together, on Saturday, just to match that point total from this time a year ago.

How’s that for a measuring stick?

Seems there’s some credence to my “Keep One Foot Firmly Planted in Reality” theory after all…

In the first of back-to-backs, it would seem the Bolts would at least consider Mike Smith in goal tonight in Uniondale, though we won’t get any definitive word on that until later this morning, at the earliest. Smith has struggled with consistency again this season, starting the year 4-0-0 before three straight losses. He was good in a 1-0 loss in Los Angeles last week but has allowed five goals in each of his last two appearances (and on just 20 shots in a 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Friday). Stats don’t tell full tales, as we all know, but even the short story that Smith has written so far this season (3.62 G.A.A./.869 save %) is cause for concern and Dan Ellis has clearly outplayed him. Conventional wisdom would have Ellis getting the go against a stronger Flyers team tomorrow, so I’m leaning toward Smith against the Isles. He needs a bounce back performance in the worst way and facing the league’s second-lowest scoring team might suit him well.

For the Islanders, the ageless Dwayne Roloson has posted stellar numbers in goal (2.39/.915) and Rick DiPietro (4.21/.854) simply has not. Whether Capuano will go with the 41-year old Roloson or the oft-injured DiPietro in his debut as Isles’ bench boss is up in the air but, from what I’ve seen so far this season, the latter appears to be a shell of his former self – no big shocker when you consider how much time the one-time franchise centerpiece has spent rehabbing and resting for much of the last three seasons.

Offensively, the Lightning continue to reap the benefits of wunderkind Steven Stamkos, whose 15 goals still leads the league and 28 points are good for a share of the Art Ross lead with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. (#StamkosMath is projecting 72-63-135, presently, for those keeping track at home.) But the Bolts have managed just a single goal in each of their last two outings and have quite the drop-off after Stamkos’ 28 points and the 19 that Martin St. Louis has produced. Captain Vincent Lecavalier has nine but he is now on the shelf for over a month after hand surgery. Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell have nine points apiece as well. Steve Downie is back in the Lightning lineup after missing three games with a back/neck issue. Simon Gagne (pointless in six) continues the slow recovery process from a neck problem of his own with no timetable set for a return, though he did practice with the team yesterday.

The Islanders, who have posted just 37 goals in 17 games, are in need of an offensive spark (among other things). Defenseman James Wisniewski is their current leading scorer with a pair of goals and 13 points. John Tavares and Matt Moulson have six goals each but a young Islander squad needs consistent production from throughout the lineup for success and just hasn’t had enough of that to this point.

There’s no question that the Lightning have to look at this as a game they need to win but, if ever a team needed a win, it’s their opposition in this one. Factor in the new coach/disaster island aspects and there’s really no telling what the home squad might be capable of this evening.

I’ll be all over this one tonight on Twitter. Make sure you stop by and say hello.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
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Filed in: NHL Teams, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: dwayne+roloson, jack+capuano, john+tavares, martin+st.+louis, matt+moulson, rick+dipietro, scott+gordon, steven+stamkos

Comments

Avatar

The Lightning can’t afford to give points to the Isles tonight. They are the better team and I expect them to play like it.

Posted by Briney on 11/17/10 at 12:27 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Agreed. They do have their own worries, though and, like I said, who knows what to expect out of the Islanders.

This won’t be a walk in the park for the Bolts…

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 11/17/10 at 01:48 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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