ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Islanders
Following last night’s 6-1 loss to the Devils, Lightning head coach John Tortorella stated that his team is “fighting it offensively” right now. By trying to break out of their offensive funk, he continued, Lightning players are “forgetting about defense and it has to be the other way around”. The Bolts have been not only outscored, 9-2, on this trip, but also badly outchanced by the Rangers and Devils. Tortorella concluded by saying that Tampa Bay has “too many good people offensively and we’ll get out of this, but we have to do it the right way” by playing a sound, defensive game.
That will be the objective tonight for the Bolts when they meet the New York Islanders. Tampa Bay needs to cut down on the defensive breakdowns that plagued them last night against the Devils; four of the six New Jersey goals came off the rush. The Islanders have talent - players like captain Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, former Lightning left wing Ruslan Fedotenko, Trent Hunter, Miroslav Satan and Mike Sillinger (another former Bolt who is playing his 1,000th NHL regular season game tonight) could make the Lightning pay if Tampa Bay’s defensive game isn’t solid.
Tortorella mixed up his line combinations during last night’s game, putting Marty St. Louis with Brad Richards and Jan Hlavac in the third period. Michel Ouellet saw time at right wing with Vinny Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal. Don’t be surprised if Tortorella keeps St. Louis and Lecavalier on separate lines at the start of tonight’s game. This move, which Tortorella executed at times last season, invariably provides a spark for his top offensive players.
Players typically prefer to get right back out on the ice after an embarrassing loss and Tampa Bay is in that position. The team will be eager to turn the page and erase the memory of last night’s setback. But the Islanders too are coming off a lopsided defeat, an 8-3 home loss to Carolina last Saturday. Unlike Tampa Bay, the Isles have had five days to mull over that game. Expect both clubs, then, to play a passionate, spirited game.
Again, many of the same keys that I’ve mentioned in this blog before the first two games of this trip still apply – it would help if the Lightning can get a lead (it would be their first on the road this year) and keep the Islanders from scoring goals in succession. Special teams play, which has been a significant factor in several Lightning home wins and road losses, likely will be an important component tonight. The Islanders have scored 12 of their 26 total goals on the power play and they own the second-best percentage in the league. Naturally, the goaltending matchup will be crucial as well. Marc Denis will get his second start of the season and will be counted on to outperform Rick DiPietro.