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Division Leading New York Islanders (Lucky) at Division Leading Tampa Bay Lightning (Good)

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Is it better to be lucky than good?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Islanders at Lightning: Game 16

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, MSG+

Opponent SBNation Site: Lighthouse Hockey

Preview:

The New York Islanders are in first place in the Metro Division. Granted, first place in the Metro would be tied for third in the Atlantic. But even so, this is not where most people expected the Islanders to be after fourteen games.

The team’s tumultuous offseason beginning with the loss of John Tavares and progressing to Lou Lamoriello signing every fourth-line forward free agent he could find made them obvious candidates to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Instead, this game against the Lightning is a matchup of two division leaders. And that begs the question, are the Islanders good? Fortunately for those of us who seek to find some degree order amidst the chaos of hockey, the answer is, “No. No they aren’t. They’re very bad just like everyone expected.”

Comparison chart:

The chart tells the story here. The Isles are bad offensively, average defensively, and bad overall. Their success is due entirely to percentage luck. They currently lead the NHL in 5v5 shooting percentage and are fourth in 5v5 save percentage. They will continue to win games for exactly as long as those numbers stay where they are. When those numbers fall back to a normal range, the Isles will start to lose buckets of games.

One of the fun things about hockey is that we don’t know when that correction will come. It could start tonight, next month, in the playoffs, or they could play like this the whole year and win the Cup. The outcomes of hockey games are at the whims of these types of percentage swings and as long the Isles continue to get this kind of luck, they’ll continue being the best bad team in the league.

The Lightning will enter tonight’s game once again without Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat. Hedman is close to returning. He skated with the team in practice yesterday. That’s not the case for Palat. The team reported yesterday that he will miss at least another few weeks, which is a significant change from his initial day-to-day status.

That means we shouldn’t expect any changes to the lineup tonight. Yanni Gourde will continue to play on the second line with Brayden Point, and Slater Koekkoek will continue to play on the third pair with Dan Girardi.

Gourde has made the most of his chance to play in the top six. He has sixteen points in the first fifteen games to go along with Point’s nineteen. With both players surpassing a point per game while playing together, they have a compelling case to remain a tandom even when Palat returns to the lineup.

Koekkoek hasn’t seized his opportunity the way Gourde has but he’s been serviceable. He and Girardi have been a break-even pair in terms of shots and expected goals. That’s good enough for a third pairing defender but not enough to suggest that he should keep his place in the lineup when Hedman returns.

On paper, this is a game the Lightning should dominate. But the Isles would be quick to point out the game is played On Ice and not On Paper.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

JT Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Danick Martel, Ondrej Palat (injured)

Defense Pairings

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek - Dan Girardi

Cameron Gaunce, Victor Hedman (injured)

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Josh Bailey

Anthony Beauvillier - Mathew Barzal - Jordan Eberle

Andrew Ladd - Valtteri Filppula - Leo Komarov

Ross Johnston - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Defense Pairings

Nick Leddy - Ryan Pulock

Thomas Hickey - Scott Mayfield

Adam Pelech - Johnny Boychuk

Goalies

Thomas Greiss

Robin Lehner