A strange familiarity - lackluster goaltending; Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders preview

Bruce Bennett

The Isles struggles are tied directly to their own zone -- by way of poor goaltending performance and lacking defense. Can the Lightning take advantage of it?

Where: Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, New York
When: 7 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, MSG+ (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent CoverageLighthouse Hockey, NYI Point Blank

The New York Islanders looked for real (a tad mediocre but for real) early in the season.  So real, in fact, that Garth Snow trading Matt Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres in a deal that brought in Thomas Vanek seemed wise; Vanek could contribute his abilities and leadership, complimenting team captain John Tavares (ESPN's choice for the best NHL player under 25 years of age, because Steven Stamkos who?) to the Isles for much longer than simply the post NHL Trade Deadline playoff push.

Playoff planning in October doesn't account for things like November, or December, January and the rest of the months prior to it.  That or perhaps the move was made in order to try to delay or overcome the inevitable: the Isles early good fortunes came to a screeching halt with thanks to goaltending.  New York, in the cellar of the mediocre-at-best Metro Division, is 9-19-6 with 24 points; they're also 1-6-3 in their past 10 games.  They rival only the Buffalo Sabres for ineptitude in the Eastern Conference.

And why? In what should be awfully familiar to lightning fans, the Isles have a problem in net and stopping opponents from scoring, giving up 118 goals and scoring 83 for themselves.  This isn't a problem for the Lightning this season, but in previous years it was all too familiar.

All three goalies who have played in / started games for the Isles have sub-.900 save percentages and goals-against averages above 3.10.

It'll be Evgeni Nabokov in net for the Isles, who have the better of the numbers so far this season: a 3.13 GAA and .896 save percentage. Nabokov had seen time on injured reserve last month with a groin injury and had

There's been whispers of a possible coaching change, with Peter Laviolette (last of the Flyers, previously of elsewhere, including the Islanders) taking over... But a coaching change doesn't fix the issues in the crease or necessarily improve the defense. Though it's a stat perceived as an inaccurate gauge of defensive ability, plus/minus is still the primary statistic used to judge defensive play - and in the Isles case, no one who has played on the blueline has a plus-rating.

The Isles issues really are moot when you consider the Lightning's 3-5-1 record against the Metro Division. The most recent loss was Saturday night in Newark against the struggling Devils. Actually, Tampa Bay has suffered 4 of those 5 Metro losses to two teams: The aforementioned Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins, so maybe suggesting the Isles woes are moot due to the record is a fallacy on my part?

I'm not sure which line head coach Jon Cooper has put together captures my imagination more: The Peanut butter-Jelly-Sandwich line (P-J-S... it was a reach, I admit it) of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Martin St. Louis, or the line of J.T. Brown, Nate Thompson and Nikita Kucherov.  The Palat/Johnson/St. Louis line takes an effective pairing of long-time linemates and adds the top-notch dynamic of Marty to kick start the offensive output that Palat and Johnson are capable of. Things are only just starting to click for the trio, and if they get hot? Look out, NHL.

The Brown-Thompson-Kucherov line is an entirely different story; they're built on what seems to be defense first... The problem being Nikita Kucherov is a more than capable two-way forward... And so is Thompson... And so is Brown.  They've all been contributing offensively the past few games (which had been a rarity for Thompson as a fourth line center); while they're not going to be contributing bucket loads, the potential to overlook and underestimate the trio is very much present.

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman participated in practice at the Coliseum this morning.  Damian Cristodero reminded his followers that coach Cooper didn't plan to play Hedman during the Bolts current road trip... But Victor is improving, and that's a good sign.

Ben Bishop starts in goal for the Lightning tonight, he is going for win #18 on the season.

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