ISLANDERS (23-25-8) at LIGHTNING (23-21-11)
Last 10 -- New York 4-6-0; TampaBay 5-4-1
Season series -- The teams are meeting for the third time this season; they'll reconvene at the Nassau Coliseum in 10 days. TampaBay has won the first two games, 4-0 at home on Dec. 5 and 4-2 on Long Island on Dec. 21.
Big story -- Don't look now, but the Lightning are among the top eight in the East. Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Atlanta moved the Bolts into eighth place -- they're ahead of Florida and the Rangers on tiebreakers. They are 4-1-1 in their last six games and hope to take advantage of playing their next four games at home, where they are 14-6-6.
Islanders -- The Islanders have had some down time in the SunshineState after losing 2-0 at Florida on Sunday. Their second and final visit to the St. Pete Times Forum is also the finale of a four-game trip that has seen them go 0-3-0 while scoring just two goals.
The slump has dropped the Isles to 13th in the East, though they're just a couple of wins from getting back into the top eight. But Scott Gordon's club, losers of its last five games and six of its last seven, has shown no signs of an upswing.
Lightning -- Antero Niittymaki continues to own Atlanta -- he beat them 2-1 on Tuesday to improve to 16-0-0 lifetime against the Thrashers. But overlooked is the fact that he's also 5-1-1 in his last seven starts, 13-9-5 for the season, and was the game's first star on Tuesday.
"He has played very well for us," said forward Martin St. Louis, who had the game-winning goal. "He made some big saves in the second period."
Who's hot -- With only one goal in their last two games, the Islanders are looking for someone to get hot. … For the Lightning, Steven Stamkos is 4-6-10 during a seven-game points streak, Vincent Lecavalier has 4 goals and 9 assists in 11 games, and Martin St. Louis has goals in four consecutive games while amassing 10 goals and 8 assists in 17 games. Defenseman Kurtis Foster has a goal and 9 assists in 12 games -- and has cracked a few glass panes in recent weeks with his hard shot.
Injury report -- Islanders forward Josh Bailey was sent home with an upper-body injury and won't be back until after the Olympic break. Forward Tim Jackman (broken orbital bone) is still out. Defenseman Brendan Witt, who's been out with a leg injury, has been placed on waivers. If he clears, he's expected to be sent to AHL Bridgeport. … TampaBay is as healthy as a team can get four months into the season.
Stat pack -- John Tavares, the No. pick in the Entry Draft last June, has struggled over the last six weeks -- a big reason the Isles have had trouble scoring. After firing home 15 goals in his first 31 games, he has just two since scoring a pair in back-to-back games on Dec. 8-9. However, he's still second on the team with 17 goals.
Puck drop -- The Islanders are on the verge of falling out of the playoff chase after a fine run -- their offense has gone cold, they've been manhandled by bigger teams and their goaltending has been solid but not spectacular. They've had three days off in Florida, so it will be interesting to see what coach Scott Gordon has been able to do with his team in that time. The Lightning, who finished above only the Islanders in the overall standings last season, need to use this four-game homestand to pad their points total. As St. Louis noted after Tuesday's win: "We're in a playoff mode right now."
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