Mar 20, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St Louis (26) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Tampa Bay 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

A Look Forward: Tampa Bay Lightning Head to New York to Take on the Islanders

The Tampa Bay Lightning started off their road trip with quite a bang. In his Lightning debut, Ben Bishop was able to block all 45 shots the Carolina Hurricanes wrought against him. Combined with an offense and defense that were both completely on top of their game, the Lightning were able to shut down, and shut out, the Hurricanes 5-0; next stop, Uniondale, NY to the Nassau Coliseum where the Lightning will come head-to-head with the New York Islanders.

March 14, 2013; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) skates with the puck as New York Islanders center Brad Boyes (24) defends during the first period at Tampa Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The battle for the Southeast Division has become much more volatile over the last few weeks, and is definitely not out of reach of the Lightning.

But as Martin St. Louis said to NHL.com last night, you build a season one win at a time. The next battle will come at the hands of the New York Islanders.

What to expect from the Islanders:

The Islanders have recently climbed into the Top 8 in the Eastern Conference, essentially giving them a good shot, albeit not a guaranteed one, at the post season. This is in no small part to their recent increased defensive play.

The Isles have only allowed a total of 135 shots in the last 5 games. This is about 27 shots on average per game. Only one team was able to bring more than 30 shots on goal against them, and that was the Philadelphia Flyers.

In the last 7 games, the Isles have gone 5-1-1 and have only allowed an average of 1.57 goals per game during that span.

Islanders center John Tavares leads the Isles in points with 39 in 38 games that he’s played this season. He has 4 points in the last 5 games including 3 goals and an assist. Tavares is currently 6th in the NHL in Shots on Goal.

Isles defenseman, and captain, Mark Streit is no slouch himself. In the 38 games he’s played this season he’s scored 5 goals and 15 assists for a total of 20 points. He has 3 points in the last 5 games, all from assists.

Cracking into one of the Top 8 spots in the Conference is no easy task. This is all the more reason to fight to stay there. You can be sure the Islanders will be fighting tooth and nail when the Lightning roll into town in order to keep their hopes alive.

What to expect from the Lightning:

Since Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper has taken the reigns of the team, the Lightning have gone 2-0-1. In those games, we have seen a motivated and re-energized team on the ice. Not just a handful of players, but the entire team has been stepping up to the challenge and taking charge of the team’s destiny.

Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 25 goals and 23 assists for a total of 48 points so far this season. In his last 5 games he’s earned 8 points, 4 from goals and 4 from assists.

Stamkos currently leads the National Hockey League in Goals Scored. However, hot on his tail is the Islanders’ John Tavares.

Lightning RW Martin St. Louis has been on a bit of a tear himself lately. He’s scored 7 points in the last 5 games, 2 goals and 5 assists.

He is currently 2nd in the NHL in Assists with 37. The only player ahead of him is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. St. Louis is also tied for 3rd in the league in Overall Points with 46. Tied with him is Chris Kunitz of the Penguins. They are preceded by fellow Lightning forward Steven Stamkos at 48, and league leading Sidney Crosby with 56.

It may seem as if Crosby holds a lot of the top numbers in the league right now; however, with Crosby currently sitting the bench following oral surgery after taking a puck straight to the face, it would seem that those leads are anyone’s game, at least for now.

Also stepping up as of late has been Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer. Yes, I said it…Eric Brewer. In the last few games, especially the one against the Hurricanes on Thursday night, Brewer was getting in front of the puck, clearing it out of the zone, and ultimately being in the right place at the right time. These are things that he has been struggling with all season long. In the game against the Canes, he found his name on the scoreboard as well when he was credited with an assist on the goal by Tom Pyatt late in the 2nd period.

Then, there is newly acquired goaltender Ben Bishop, who in his Lightning debut, completely shut out the Carolina Hurricanes on their home ice. Need further proof of Bishop’s performance? Here is a short video of a stop he made against Jeff Skinner late in the first period.

Things are about to get interesting, though. The Bolts are heading into a back-to-back this weekend, first against the Islanders, and then against the Capitals on Sunday. Will Coach Cooper look to Bishop for both games, or will he look to goaltender Mathieu Garon to take the reins in one of those face offs  If he does indeed look to Garon for one of the games, will be play him against the Islanders and save Bishop for the divisional battle against the Capitals, or will he want to keep the Big Ben’s momentum going and play him against the Islanders?

Either way the puck bounces, the next two days are going to be a wild ride for the Lightning.

So Far This Season:

This is the third and final meeting between the Lightning and Islanders this year. The first two meetings have not gone favorably for the Lightning as they fell to the Isles 4-3 in Long Island on January 21st and then again in a 2-0 shutout on March 14th at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

My Take on the Matter:

It may seem like a completely uphill battle, which it will be, but the Lightning are not completely out of the post season quite yet. However, they do have a tough road ahead.

It will be up to Coach Cooper which goaltender is going to take the ice on which night, but we will have to keep the faith that he knows the team’s strengths and weaknesses far better than we could hope to, and that he will make the right decision when game time comes.

Like I said before, the whole of the team has been working extremely well together as of late, even those who have seemingly fallen behind all season long. Nine, yes nine, different players found their names on the scoreboard in Thursday night’s game.

As the old adage goes, United We Stand Divided We Fall. If the one gear stops turning, the machine will come to a screeching halt. However, if all of the players work together like a well-oiled machine, the Lightning could essentially be unstoppable.

There is a lot of talent on our team, especially in the younger players we have brought up this season like Tyler Johnson, Radko Gudas, and Alex Killorn. All they need is a little guidance from veteran players like Martin St. Louis and the Captain, Vincent Lecavalier; as well as the guidance of Coach Cooper, and they can easily find themselves in the post season.

Just like always, the Lightning need their Thunder. So even if you can’t make it all the way to Uniondale, I want you, the Bolts Nation to scream your heads off when your Lightning take the ice at the Nassau Coliseum. Scream so loud that they can hear you all the way from sunny Tampa, Florida.

Without Thunder, there is no Lightning. Be The Thunder.

 

Do you think the Lightning have what it takes to finish out this road trip with 6 points? What do you think is the key to the Lightning’s recent resurgence? Sound off in the comments below.

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Tags: New York Islanders Tampa Bay Lightning

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