Top 25 (injured centers) under 25; Tampa Bay Lightning versus New York Islanders preview

"I'm better." "Ha ha ha, no you're not." "Heh, ESPN says so." "Well, I say ESPN likes pageviews and viewer ratings from New York more than Tampa." "Do the markets even compare, you know, market size?" "No, John. and I'm still better." - Andy Marlin

This game should have been another confrontation between two star centers in the NHL, but it's another game (this season) robbed of that by way of injury.

Where:  Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When:  7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Television: Sun Sports | Radio: 970 AM WFLA
Opponent CoverageLighthouse HockeyNYI Point Blank

"The star center is out."  The Lightning had that phrase tied to them for the bulk of the NHL season after Steven Stamkos broke his tibia back in November.  The Islanders are now handcuffed by the sentence by way of John Tavares and his torn ACL suffered at the 2014 winter Olympics.  Tavares had 66 points in 59 games for the Isles and is the central figure in the Isles (perpetual) rebuilding at current.

But is John Tavares the best player in the NHL under the age of 25?  ESPN, showing casual northeast bias, said so in the preseason (ESPN Insider article).  While an argument was made that Tavares was doing more with less with the Islanders that same argument would not be afforded to Tavares if he was playing outside the tri-state area.

It's sort of worthless for me to compare the two centers at this point as they're not facing off head-to-head (though their franchises are) but I can't exactly shed the thought either.  You can look at the numbers for Stamkos and Tavares and their careers, but even focusing on this season alone - Stamkos has 33 points in 27 games, with the majority coming by way of goals (21).  Tavares, as was stated above, has 66 points in 59 games, dominated by his 42 assists.  Stamkos has the better point-production (1.2 to Tavares 1.1) but there are more stats that I can't go into right now that likely make this a tighter comparison than it seems (faceoff percentage, giveaways, takeaways, CORSI, Fenwick, baseball skills, etc.)  There's certainly a debate to be had about the two players, but sadly it's not going to take place unless the Islanders turn things around in seasons to come (and the media doesn't fixate on one player while ignoring the other, as it so often does with market differentials.)

As for tonight; Ben Bishop starts for the Bolts in net while Evgeni Nabokov is slated to be between the pipes for the Isles.  Nabokov's .902 save percentage may seem weak, but his 2.87 GAA shows his team is compensating for it defensively.  Not that Nabby had a poor outing against Tampa Bay in December; a 1.85 GAA and a .944 save percentage (34/36 on the saves.)  The Isles ultimately lost that game in the shootout but they kept the Bolts at bay for 65 minutes before it.

The Isles are ranked 16th in the league in shots-allowed a game (30.2) and are ranked 9th in the league in blocked shots this season and 2nd in the league in takeaways...  So while they're last in the Metro Division, it's not like they're doing everything wrong.

If the Lightning play like they have been playing (and they're on a nine game point streak, with a 5-1-4 record in their past 10) this should be another close one.

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