Battling back-to-back; Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders preview

Tampa Bay plays a pair in the greater Northeast this weekend, starting with the 7th seeded New York Islanders and moving on to Washington and the division leading(!) Capitals.

WHERE: Nassau Veterans War Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, New York
WHEN: 7 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Fox Sports Florida (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Lighthouse Hockey, NYI Point Blank

The weekend features the Lightning playing back-to-back contests against formidable opposition by way of the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. The Isles are in playoff contention and the Capitals are... Well, damn! Look at those conference standings!

Eastern Standings

Pittsburgh Penguins 39 29-10-0 58
Montreal Canadiens 37 24-8-5 53
Washington Capitals 37 18-17-2 38
Boston Bruins 36 24-8-4 52
Toronto Maple Leafs 37 20-13-4 44
Ottawa Senators 37 19-12-6 44
New York Rangers 37 18-15-4 40
New York Islanders 38 18-16-4 40
New Jersey Devils 37 15-13-9 39
Winnipeg Jets 39 18-19-2 38
Philadelphia Flyers 37 17-17-3 37
Buffalo Sabres 38 15-17-6 36
Carolina Hurricanes 36 16-18-2 34
Tampa Bay Lightning 36 16-18-2 34
Florida Panthers 37 12-19-6 30

I mean, seriously, talk about a 180 turn! The Capitals lead the Southeast Division and continue to rise. Hats off to Adam Oates and the Capitals for righting the ship, and bonus points for Ted Leonsis and George McPhee for not panicking and firing Oates as some troubled Caps fans called for early on.

But Washington is tomorrow. What about tonight?

The Lightning are 5-4-1 in their past 10 and have taken 7 of a possible 8 points in their past 4 games; 5 of a possible 6 with Jon Cooper behind the bench as head coach.

While things are looking better and brighter for the club, the injury bug struck again on Thursday when Victor Hedman went down in Raleigh. He did not participate in the morning skate with the team and continues to be listed as day-to-day. Tampa Bay recalled Matt Taormina yesterday from Syracuse to compensate the loss on defense. I would have expected Brendan Mikkelson to be that recall, but Brendan broke his foot earlier in the week (stepping into a hole accidentally). He's out for a month or more.

Some fans have been vocal in their confusion why Mark Barberio was not the recall; Mark is another hot prospect for the Lightning on the blue-line and Yzerman had wanted to get a look-see at him (supposedly) before the end of the season. Why not Barberio? Why not?!

Taormina is an NHL veteran of 47 NHL games, Mark Barberio is not. While a 5'10" dman (Taormina) doesn't replace a big body in the Lightning lineup (Hedman), Brian Lee was also a potential recall, but you have to think Taormina may be carried by the Lightning for a longer time than just until Hedman is ready. After all, the Lightning was at six defensemen on the roster before Hedman's injury. It's been a long time since the team only carried that few bodies for the blue-line.

If the Lightning were in a better position in the standings right now, this game would be getting more attention than it is. It pits the top two goal-scorers in the NHL at current against one another: Steven Stamkos leads John Tavares by all of 2 goals in the race for the 2013 Rocket Richard trophy. Stammer stands at 25 goals, with Tavares next with 23. Much like Stamkos, John Tavares is enabled by a partner in crime - Matt Moulson in this case. Moulson has 25 assists on the season, and usually those are given on goals by Tavares.

Ben Bishop gets the start in net for the Lightning tonight, I'm not going to mention his stats because they are either impeccable in his brief Tampa Bay Lightning career or the same numbers you've heard time-over since his acquisition on Wednesday. He'll be pitted against Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov is still posting numbers that would make him seem the ideal Lightning goalie (2.66 GAA; .906 save %), matching up well with Mathieu Garon or Anders Lindback's numbers this season. But it's not Garon (who I'm guessing starts tomorrow against the Capitals, though Jon Cooper says he will not start worrying about who starts tomorrow until post-game tonight) or the injured Lindback in net. It's Ben Bishop, whose numbers this season are a sight better than Nabokov's.

But can they hold up under the weaker Lightning defense?

The Lightning's power play continues to dive in the standings - it's oh-for-awhile and currently ranked 19th in the league with a 17.4% efficiency. Contrast this to the Islanders 9th ranked, 21.4% power play and you have a simple message that the Bolts need to heed: stay out of the box.

That's looking past Tampa Bay's penalty kill unit, though. The Lightning are ranked 11th in the league on the PK, with a 82% efficiency; that is a touch better than the Isles 18th ranked PK unit, which has an 80.7% effective kill rate. The Bolts PK will be aided by the return of center Nate Thompsonf rom his two-game suspension.

Important programming note: The Lightning game is not on Sun Sports tonight with thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Major League Baseball season (...and the 2012 NHL lockout, thank you very much Gary and Don). It'll be broadcast on Sun Sport's sister station, Fox Sports Florida. It's still Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor calling the game; it's still a standard Sun Sports broadcast... It's just on a different station. Check your cable or satellite listings for what channel number Fox Sports Florida is on your respective provider. This is the first of six games that will be airing on FSF instead of Sun Sports during the remainder of the season.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Full game coverage on SB Nation

Tickets -- Check Availability