11/15/14 Pregame: Isles look to strike first in Tampa Bay

Coming off of a win in Sunrise against the Panthers, the Islanders (11-5-0) head to the West Coast of Florida to take on the Lightning (11-4-2). The Isles are now winners of 5 straight and looking to stretch their streak tonight to sensational 6.

This is the final game of a tough stretch that saw the Islanders play 7 of 8 on the road. After losing the first two to start the road trip, fans had to believe that this November was going to fall in line with Novembers of the past.

Instead of falling victim to their November swoon, the Isles picked themselves up and won the next 5 in a row. They did this in various different ways and their diverse methods of winning are what is most important about this streak.

The orange and blue crew has done it with offense, defense, great goaltending and even withstanding a horrible 3rd period and OT performance to win with the shoot out last night in Florida.

This game is the first of a home and home series between the two talented Eastern Conference teams. They will skate again in Uniondale on Tuesday 11/18/14.  Tampa Bay and New York’s statistical lines throughout the 2014-15 look extremely similar.

These teams are closer than some would think and that is a good thing for the Islanders. Tampa Bay were strong favorites and popular picks in the Eastern Conference in the preseason and have lived up to the lofty billing thus far. Being mentioned in the same statistical breath as the Lightning is impressive but the Isles deserve it. It shows where the Isles have risen to in just a year's time.

Both teams have an almost identical record with the Lightning (11-4-2) playing one more game than the Isles (11-5-0).  Tampa Bay has the edge in average goals scored per game with 3.53 to 3.06. That 3.53 mark is good for 2nd in the league as far as scoring goes.

The Bolts are allowing a smidge less offensive production from the opposition nightly. They have the edge in goals against per game at 2.59 to 2.81. As far as numbers go through mid-November, these are two elite teams in the Eastern Conference. There is no denying that. 

A lot of critics and skeptics are holding their breath on the Islanders. However, if these exact numbers were being put up by another team, say the Maple Leafs, they would be heralded as the second coming of a dynasty. The Isles will be questioned all year and expected to fall back into their losing ways. 

People are waiting for the bottom to fall out and so far, the team has overcome adversity at every angle. They have the talent to play well all season.

The Islanders will give the streaking Jaroslav Halak the night off and give the reliable Chad Johnson a chance to shut down the Bolts. Ben Bishop has started 13 of the 17 games for the Lightning and the Isles could see a familiar face in net if they decide to start the back up in either of these games. Evgeni Nabokov is now the back up in Tampa Bay but hasn’t started since November 8th. Lightning coach Jon Cooper may look to give Bishop the night off after losing 2-1 against the Sharks.

As per Bryan Burns, beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nabby was taking reps in the crease early this morning with no Ben Bishop in sight. It is likely Evgeni will start one of the two games.

Tweet of the week:

Times are changing here on Long Island in terms of hockey. Winning is not hoped for, it is expected. This tweet is from Evan Roberts, WFAN radio host. On a station that doesn’t cover hockey often and consistently, they are starting to take notice of the team’s play.

It could be the perfect storm for hockey in New York with baseball in its offseason, football with two bad teams and basketball seeing the Nets playing decent and Knicks playing awful. Eyes could turn to hockey as early as late November as the main storyline in sports through the winter in New York. Stayed tuned.

Clutterbuck questionable?

Arthur Staple of Newsday is reporting that Capuano had said Cal Clutterbuck will be a game time decision. It is unclear what the injury or the extent but it was said that he ‘tweaked’ something.

Tampa Bay’s Line Up

Tampa Bay’s lines aren’t released as of 12 PM today but we can't be sure to expect them to look similar to the other night against San Jose. They are listed below thanks to NHL.com. Jonathan Drouin, impressive prospect, sat as a healthy scratch. Jon Cooper has hinted that he will return to the top line sooner than later. Expect him there tonight.

Lightning line up from 11/13/14

Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Cedric Paquette - Vladislav Namestnikov - Alex Killorn

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - J.T. Brown

Matthew Carle - Anton Stralman

Andrej Sustr - Eric Brewer

Jason Garrison - Radko Gudas

Ben Bishop

Evgeni Nabokov

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Jonathan Drouin

Injured: Victor Hedman (fractured finger), Brett Connolly (lower body)

Islanders’ Line Up

The Islanders’ line up will be harder to predict simply because Capuano can’t be happy with the performance last night despite the win. But I’ll take a stab. As per Capuano, the defense will be the same but we could see some shuffling especially if Clutterbuck is out.

Islanders Projected Line Up

Nikolay Kulemin - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Mikhail Grabovski

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cory Conacher

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky

Chad Johnson

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Eric Boulton, Matt Donovan, Brian Strait

Injured: Matt Carkner (back), Michael Grabner (lower body), Cal Clutterbuck

Obviously we know that Johnson is in goal but we could see Conacher slide back into the line up if Clutterbuck can’t play. I’m thinking that Capuano will air on the side of caution with #15 and sit him.

Cory has been a healthy scratch due to the depth on the Isles’ roster and lack of production. With Bailey coming back from his broken hand, he has to continue to earn his keep. All of this competition seems to driving the Isles to playing well consistently.

After the Isles are done with their home and home date with the Lightning, they will share the fun on Friday with Pittsburgh.

On Friday they will skate in Pittsburgh then on Saturday will take on the Penguins on Long Island.

Through these tough 4 games, the Isles are obviously looking to scoop up all 8 points. Realistically against the two best teams in all of the NHL, splitting would be welcomed.

Continuing the theme, they will take on the Flyers on Monday the 24th but take on yet another home and home set against Washington.

They will skate on Long Island on the day before Thanksgiving then take on the Caps in DC on Black Friday. The Isles cannot let up now and must continue their impressive play throughout the mine field that is November. It continues tonight.

Puck drop is tonight at 7:00 from Tampa Bay.

-Steve Giangaspro