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ISLANDERS (3-1-0) at LIGHTNING (1-3-2)
TV: SUN (HD), MSG PLUS
Season series: It's the second straight Thursday night meeting between these Eastern Conference foes. Last week, the Islanders earned a 5-1 victory over the Lightning at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum behind a four-point first period by John Tavares.
Big Story: The Lightning came within a victory of the Stanley Cup Final last season, but has struggled mightily out of the gate with only one win in six tries (1-3-2). New York, which used a four-goal first period to rout Tampa Bay last Thursday, has won three straight since dropping its home opener. The Isles are hitting the road for the first time this season for a two-game trip in the state of Florida, beginning with Thursday's clash at St. Pete Times Forum.
Islanders: After being blanked on opening night in a 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers, New York's offense has come alive, scoring 11 goals during the team's three-game win streak.
"It's about puck management and clock management and [that line] understands those two things," coach Jack Capuano said. "They know who they're up against at certain times and when you do that and think the game like they think, you're going to have success. What they do is valuable for our hockey team."
But while the Isles have excelled in the offensive zone early this season, the team's greatest strength has been its goaltending. Al Montoya, through three starts, is among the league leaders with a 1.35 GAA and .953 save percentage, and veteran Evgeni Nabokov, making his first NHL game since the 2010 postseason with the San Jose Sharks, the Isles to a 4-2 win over their local rivals, the New York Rangers, on Saturday.
Lightning: Tampa Bay kicked off its season in style, with a convincing 5-1 road win over the division rival Carolina Hurricanes. But five losses later, the Bolts find themselves in the midst of their longest losing skid under second-year coach Guy Boucher.
After falling to the Islanders last Thursday, the Lightning was swept in a home-and-home set with the Panthers, which included a 7-4 setback in their home opener Monday night. Tampa Bay grabbed a 2-1 first-period lead when Victor Hedman notched his first goal of the season. But Florida's special teams play accounted for five power-play goals and a shorthanded tally by former Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim.
Ex-Islander Dwayne Roloson has also struggled in goal for Tampa Bay, with a 1-2-1 record and a 5.09 GAA in four games played, but Boucher refuses to place the blame on one player during his team's slide.
"That's a lot of goals and obviously we don't want that many goals, but before I blame the goaltender I want to make sure -- this is a team sport," said Boucher, who nevertheless will start backup Mathieu Garon. "We're not going to point fingers at anybody."
Who's Hot: Tavares was named the NHL's second star of the week after putting up five goals and eight points in New York's last two games. The 21-year-old capped off a sensational week with a hat trick and an assist in the win over the Rangers last Saturday night. … Marc-Andre Bergeron, another former Islander, has registered at least a point in five of Tampa Bay's first six games this season, and reeled off two goals and three assists in the team's recent home-and-home series with Florida.
Injury Report: Isles' defenseman Milan Jurcina (groin) has yet to play this season and is questionable for Thursday's game. Goaltender Rick DiPietro skated at practice this week but remains out indefinitely with a concussion after taking a shot off the mask in practice last week. First-year forward Nino Niederreiter (groin) is on IR. … Defenseman Mattias Ohlund (knee surgery) remains on IR for the Bolts. Defenseman Eric Brewer, yet another former Islander, is day-to-day with an undisclosed upper-body injury; he missed practice on Wednesday.
Stat Pack : In the Bolts' shootout loss to the Panthers on Saturday, Bergeron scored twice to join Chris Pronger as the second active NHL blueliner to score two or more goals in a game for five different teams. Bergeron has done so for the Oilers, Islanders, Wild, Canadiens and Lightning. … Through the first four games of the new season, New York is 18 for 19 (94.7 percent) on the penalty kill -- the second-best mark in the League behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (96.3). The Isles' PK unit has not allowed a 5-on-4 goal; they only goal New York has surrendered came while playing two men down.
Puck Drop: With some of their youngsters starting to mature, the Islanders helped their hopes for a fast start by going 3-1-0 in their season-opening homestand. New York has missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, and Tavares knows his team's budding chemistry will help it embrace the challenges ahead in 2011-12.
"Playing in front of our fans with the comfort of sleeping in our own beds and preparing for games that way was a huge start for us -- we took full advantage of it," Tavares said.
"Hopefully we can take it on the road. Not gonna lie, we're probably ready for a good trip. Some team bonding is always good on the road -- you're always with the guys and develop great chemistry."
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