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Season Series: Tampa Bay and New York meet for the first of four meetings on the year. Last season the Lightning dropped three of four games to the Islanders, with two of those losses coming by a single goal in overtime. The clubs will meet three more times in 2011-12 following the season series-opening bout at the Nassau Coliseum, including a pair of games on Oct. 20 and Mar. 24 at the St. Pete Times Forum, and an additional game on Long Island set for Dec. 6.
The Big Story: Two teams with two superstars face off tonight, yet both have yet to find the back of the net this season. Steven Stamkos, who ranked second in the NHL last season with 45 goals, is still seeking to light the lamp for the first time, but does come in with a share of the team lead in assists with two. By all accounts, he is off to a better start than his spotlight counterpart, Islanders center John Tavares, who has neither a goal nor an assist in his team’s first two games to open the season.
LIGHTNING: Tampa Bay now enters the home stretch of its season-opening five-game, 10-day road trip, which is its longest of the season. Following their matchup with the Islanders, the Bolts will make their final stop on the tour in South Florida for the first of six meetings with the division-rival Panthers on Saturday night. After earning an opening 5-1 victory over Carolina to start the season, Tampa Bay has since dropped each of its past two games, with the most recent coming in a back-and-forth, hard-fought 6-5 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday night. Rather than the superstars headlining the contest, it was the grinders and role players on both teams who took care of the scoring. Bruno Gervais had a goal and an assist in his Lightning debut, while Teddy Purcell, Brett Clark and Dominic Moore also had two points apiece. Following the game, the team spent a few extra days at the Verizon Center to hold practice and a team meeting, where one of the primary topics addressed was how to be better positioned and more aware in its own defensive zone – the lack of which caused costly turnovers and lost one-on-one battles in Monday’s loss to the Capitals.
“We’re not way off,” defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron told the St. Petersburg Times. “But we’re obviously playing in the NHL, so a little thing that we miss makes a big difference, and teams are taking advantage of that.”
Furthermore, the team learned on Tuesday that defenseman Mattias Ohlund will be out for up to a month after having arthroscopic knee surgery performed on both knees.
ISLANDERS – New York comes in having played one less game than Tampa Bay. The club will play the third of four games on its season-opening four-game home stand after splitting the first two games of the season with a win and a loss each. Although early on in the year, New York has struggled to find offense, getting shutout by Florida in the season-opener and scoring just twice to earn its first win of 2011-12 against Minnesota on Monday night. With team superstar John Tavares yet to record his first point of the year, it was Andy MacDonald and Frans Nielsen who scored for New York, while goaltender Al Montoya made 20 saves. Through two games, Montoya has given up three goals on 50 shots, and while he currently wields a hot hand, nothing is set in concrete, according to the team’s web site. Per newyorkislanders.com, the coaching staff has indicated that each night’s start would go to the net minder who deserved to play and that the team would ride him until one of the other goaltending choices played better.
“You are always ready. You have to be ready. You never know when your chance is going to come,” Montoya told the team web site. “For me, that’s how I prepare. I prepare to be ready to play every single night.”
Who’s Hot: Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis comes in with a team-leading three points and has points in all but one game so far this season. Ryan Malone also comes in riding a three-game point streak for the Lightning. New York’s Andy MacDonald and Frans Nielsen each had a goal in the Islanders’ win on Monday night, while P.A. Parenteau currently leads the team with two points.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Mattias Ohlund (knee, placed on Injured Reserve). ISLANDERS – Nino Niederreiter (lower body) and Trevor Gillies (groin).
Notable Quotable: “We’ve got a guy that plays against the top lines that we don’t have now, and you can’t replace that. It really puts a major hole in you’re lineup, and that’s what we’ve got. It causes us to ask a lot from the other guys that are not really in some of the spots they are normally in.” – Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, on losing defenseman Mattias Ohlund to injury
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