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Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders preview: The two best teams in the east

Lou’s collection of misfit toys looks to continue their revenge tour.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders: Game 51

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Nassau Coliseum

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, MSG+

Opponent SBNation Site: Lighthouse Hockey

Preview:

Tonight, the Lightning head to Long Island to face the Islanders. Yes, Long Island. The game will take place in the Nassau Coliseum. While the Coliseum has its issues, give me the decrepit old barn over the hipster mausoleum in Brooklyn any day. I’m no Isles fan but I hope they get their stadium issues resolved so they can head back where they belong in the near future.

On the ice, we’ll see the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. That seems absurd given the offseason the Islanders had but hey, this is the NHL where anything can happen and only morons like me would waste their time trying to understand why. The Lightning lead the NHL with 76 points. The Isles are second in the East with 63 points, one more than the Toronto Maple Leafs through the same number of games.

If you’re wondering which team has been playing better recently, that would unequivocally be the Islanders. They’ve won seven of their last ten games and gotten points in eight of those. The Lightning have only won six and lost the other four in regulation. “Yes, but what about the underlying numbers?” you might be asking. Well, the Isles have an even more pronounced advantage there.

Comparison chart:

Over the last ten games, they’ve been among the best teams in the NHL in terms of expected goal share. They’ve gotten there by combining strong defensive play with generating quality chances on offense. Barry Trotz preaches shot quality and the numbers support that in this recent stretch.

On top of their already strong play, they’ve been getting stellar goaltending. Robin Lehner has been one of the best goalies in the league so far this season. He’s climbed into second place in goals saved above expected behind Johns Gibson according to Evolving Hockey. And while Gibson probably has the Vezina locked up already, Lehner is making a case to be in the conversation.

In Lightning land, things aren’t going as well. The Bolts have been mediocre in their last ten games. They’re fortunate to have won six of those games and only did so thanks to hot shooting and a strong powerplay. At 5v5, their offense has failed to generate anything meaningful. They’ve been good defensively but this team is built on forward talent and they need that group to get back to how they played earlier in the season.

On the whole, the Lightning are still a better team than the Isles. Their full season numbers are much better both at 5v5 and on special teams. But just like last year, the Lightning have hit their swoon immediately following the halfway point of the season. And with the Isles playing their best hockey of the year, tonight sees the teams meet at a crossroads headed in opposite directions.

For both teams, this is the first night of a back to back. The Bolts head to the city to face the Rangers tomorrow while the Isles stay home for the Kings. The Lightning will be looking to erase the memories of a poor start that cost them the game against the Penguins on Wednesday. And if they can’t, they’ll need a win on the second half of a road back to back tomorro to keep from losing three in a row.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Mathieu Joseph

Ryan Callahan - Danick Martel

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Anton Stralman

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

New York Islanders

Forward Lines

Anders LeeBrock NelsonJordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier — Mat Barzal — Josh Bailey

Michael Dal ColleValtteri FilppulaLeo Komarov

Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Defense Pairings

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk

Adam PelechRyan Pulock

Devon ToewsScott Mayfield

Goalies

Robin Lehner

Thomas Greiss