Top picks meet as Lightning host Islanders
ISLANDERS (11-10-7) at LIGHTNING (10-9-8)
Last 10 --
New York 5-4-1; Tampa Bay 3-5-2
Season series --
The teams are meeting for the first time this season. The Islanders won three of the four games last season, splitting their two visits to the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big story -- John Tavares
and Victor Hedman, the top two picks in the Entry Draft last June, will meet for the first time in the NHL. Both are off to impressive starts. Tavares leads all rookies with 11 goals and 22 points, while Hedman has stepped into a regular role on Tampa Bay's defense, averaging about 20 minutes a game. The two figure to have more than one encounter.
The Islanders had no way of knowing they would get two scorers when they chose Tavares with the No. 1 pick last June. With some encouragement from Tavares, forward Matt Moulson -- whose brother had played with Tavares and who had skated at practices with him -- signed with the Islanders and has done nothing but produce. The 26-year-old, getting his first full shot in the NHL, had his first career hat trick by scoring three goals in a row in the Islanders' 4-1 win at Atlanta on Thursday.
"He's making the most of his opportunity," coach Scott Gordon said of Moulson, who usually plays left wing with Tavares as his center. "It's one thing to get it, but to go out there and perform well every single game is a credit to him."
The Bolts' 28th-place penalty-killers are killing them. Tampa Bay limited New Jersey to just 19 shots on Friday night, but paid the price for its inability to kill penalties -- allowing a pair of third-period power-play goals in a 3-2 loss.
"Sometimes when the pressure is on, some people do stupid things and we took stupid, stupid penalties in the third," coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's frustrating because we're in control of the game 1-0, and they didn't have many chances and then dumb penalty after dumb penalty kills us."
Who's hot --
Moulson's hat trick gave him a team-high 14 goals. He and Tavares have 22 points, tops on the Isles. … Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos have combined for 32 goals, the second-highest total by any two teammates. Only San Jose's Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley (37) have more.
Injury report --
The Islanders are still without defenseman Andy Sutton (groin) and center Doug Weight (upper body). But they may be close to getting starting goaltender Rick DiPietro
back -- he's scheduled to begin a rehab stint on Saturday. … Tampa forward Paul Szczechura left Friday's game and did not return due to a lower-body injury.
Stat pack --
Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, has 17 goals in Tampa Bay's first 27 games -- only six fewer than he managed in his entire rookie season. That has helped make up for the struggles of captain Vincent Lecavalier, who got only his sixth of the season against New Jersey.
Puck drop --
The Islanders and Lightning finished last and next-to-last in 2008-09 -- but both appear to be markedly improved, partly thanks to their first-round draft picks. One advantage for the Isles is that they had Friday off, while the Lightning lost a heartbreaker at New Jersey. Expect the Isles to try to push the tempo early.