New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME 20
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, MSG+
Opponent SBNation Site: Lighthouse Hockey
Dan Saraceni, managing editor of Lighthouse Hockey, answered our pressing questions about the New York Islanders. But first:
RC: Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way: Ho-Sang looks spectacular, right?
Dan Saraceni: I love Josh and went out of my way to acquire a No. 66 t-shirt for a certain Lightning blog editor (and one for myself) [Thanks! - Acha], if I remember correctly. He can look spectacular... at times. Other times, he looks like a 21-year-old guy with a ton of flash still figuring out what he can and can't get away with on an NHL level. And sometimes, he looks like a Bridgeport Sound Tiger, unfortunately. There's no question he needs to be better in turning the puck over and trusting his teammates. But there's also no question that the Islanders will need him to be a regular contributor that can drive play if they want to get the roster working to maximum capacity. It can happen, I believe that. I just hope it happens soon.
RC: How has Barzal’s arrival helped give the Islanders a more balanced offense?
DS: For the first time in a very long time, the Islanders have a second line that can consistently create offence. Barzal and Eberle have really found some chemistry and it's been huge. Barzal's skill and strength at possession is a joy. It used to be, when Tavares wasn't on the ice, goals were a pleasant surprise. Now, they have two real scoring lines that can do some damage. The trick is now not having two bottom lines that bleed shots against...
RC: Does New York have the pieces in place to help Tavares win a championship in the future?
DS: I think so - eventually. It's getting there. Barzal is a big part of that, as is Eberle. Their defense can be inconsistent, but they've got a surplus of D in the minors that could be ready soon. They also could maybe used in trade, as could the extra picks they got from the Travis Hamonic deal. What they need is a third line possession driver and at least one goalie to step up and take the reigns. I'm not saying they're a contender (or maybe even a playoff team), but all is not lost, despite how my Tweets sound on a regular basis.
RC: How much does the organization’s drama with an arena affect the team’s perception in the area?
DS: Oh boy. I have many, many thoughts on the Islanders' place in New York's sports landscape. Far too many to post here now. It's a tough market, and Islanders fans are a perpetually angry, unwaveringly pessimistic fanbase that hates their own team more than any other. But winning is the most important thing. The arena situation doesn't help, but when the Islanders are in the playoffs, people come. When they play big Metro rivals with real stakes on the line, people come. When they're struggling, even for a day, nobody wants to know from them. In other words, if they get a new arena, it won't solve any attendance problems. Only being a consistent winner will.
RC: Who's been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the season thus far?
DS: Barzal's poise has been a surprise. It feels like he's been in the league for five years already. It's a little daunting to be this dependent on a rookie, but as long as it works, I'll live with it.
I'll say Doug Weight's coaching tenure has been a bit of a disappointment so far because I had hoped that (and he certainly sounds like would) avoid strange lineup decisions, which hasn't happened. Smart Thomas Hickey gets scratched, slow Dennis Seidenberg plays, young defender Ryan Pulock gets scratched, who knows... I like Doug because he's entertaining as hell and he makes you feel like he knows what he's doing. I'm just tired of worrying about getting the lineup right on top of worrying about the game and the rest of the division. I'd also like to see Anthony Beauvillier stop sinking to the bottom of the team's Corsi For list. He's another young guy they're going to need going forward. And he's so damn much fun to watch.
RC: Thank you for your time, Dan! By the way, if you love sports, you’ll love his Golden Girls Sports podcast.
The Isles have been solid this season but struggled to generate much offense in their last ten games. They’ve relied on slowing other teams to stay on the right side of the shot and expected goal counts. The Lightning have been one of the best teams in the league over their last ten games putting together good numbers at 5v5 and then supporting that with dominant special teams. Their penalty kill in particular has been exceptional.
The Lightning should push the pace tonight and force the Isles into an uncomfortable style of play. If they allow the Isles to bog down the game, they cold find themselves in a close contest. To avoid that, they need to be aggressive in their breakouts and through the neutral zone. If they do that, they should be able to control the tempo and the game and earn a positive result.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Gabriel Dumont
Chris Kunitz - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
New York Islanders
Anders Lee - John Tavares - Josh Bailey
Andrew Ladd - Mathew Barzal - Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier - Brock Nelson - Joshua Ho-Sang
Jason Chimera - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan - Adam Pelech
Thomas Hickey - Ryan Pulock