ISLANDERS (18-23-7) at LIGHTNING (28-15-4)
TV: MSG PLUS, SUN
Last 10: New York 7-3-0; Tampa Bay 5-4-1.
Season series: This is the second of three games between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay earned a 3-2 shootout victory against the Islanders on Dec. 17 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Big story: The Islanders went 9-4-2 in 15 games after inserting Ryan Strome into the lineup, but they returned Strome, their first-round pick (No. 5) at the 2011 NHL Draft, to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League on Wednesday.
Strome, 20, had a goal and three assists for New York.
"The first thing he probably realizes, and we talked about it, is that he wanted to create more from an offensive standpoint," Islanders coach Jack Capuano told the team website Wednesday. "The defensemen are bigger and stronger [in the NHL], the forwards track a lot harder and you don't have that time and space, but the fact that he recognizes those things shows his attention to detail and the willingness to get better. That's what I really like about Ryan and he knows he has to get stronger to play better down low and away from the puck. It's not a demotion, it's a process and it's good for his development to continue to play as we move forward.
"We put him in a top-nine role. We put him on the power play a little bit. It's not like we didn't give him some offensive opportunities. He got some minutes. Late in tight games, I cut his minutes a little bit and put Casey [Cizikas] on that line because of the inexperience and the strength and [Strome] was great. He watched the video and asked a lot of questions. I think he has a bright future. He's an offensively gifted player, and to hear him say he wanted to create more; he understands how he has to create more. That's being heavier on sticks, getting into those battle levels and defending a little harder because as a centerman, good defense is going to lead to offense. I think his opportunity, as we move forward, he'll have a bigger role on our hockey club."
Islanders: Thursday marks the fifth of a six-game road trip for New York. The Islanders had a seven-game road winning streak snapped Tuesday when they lost 4-2 to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
New York has three come-from-behind victories on this trip, but fell behind 3-0 in the first period Tuesday and couldn't recover. The Islanders know they can't continue to use this formula if they're going to pursue a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I think it's just being better prepared mentally," forward Colin McDonald told Newsday. "Especially on the road, you know the home team wants to get off to a fast start. Instead of sitting back and waiting, we need to take a different mindset."
Defenseman Travis Hamonic won't play Thursday due to an upper-body injury, which means Radek Martinek will be in uniform for the first time since Nov. 29. The 37-year-old, who has been dealing with back issues, has three assists in 10 games this season. He was placed on injured reserve Dec. 12.
Lightning: Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman will reach a milestone Thursday, when the No. 2 pick at the 2009 NHL Draft appears in his 300th NHL game.
Hedman is having a breakout season for the Lightning, at least from an offensive standpoint. The 23-year-old Swede scored his 10th goal of the season Tuesday in a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Hedman, who was selected immediately after Islanders captain John Tavares at that draft, hadn't scored more than five goals in a season prior to this one.
"I'm extremely impressed at how much he thinks everything out now," Lightning coach Jon Cooper told the team website. "Now he has the confidence to make these plays and that's where he's really matured.
"It's hard for me not to sit here and say he's propelling himself up into the upper echelon of defenseman and he's earning that. If he can sustain this for a full season, people are going to start talking individual rewards for him."
Who's hot: Islanders rookie defenseman Calvin de Haan had an assist Tuesday, extending his point streak to five games (one goal, six assists). … Lightning captain Martin St. Louis has a five-game point streak (three goals, three assists). Hedman has goals in back-to-back games.
Injury report: Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (quad) was on the ice Wednesday, but remains day-to-day. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) is out but has started skating again. … Tampa Bay is without center Steven Stamkos (broken tibia) and defensemen Sami Salo (lower body), Keith Aulie (hand), Brian Lee (knee) and Mattias Ohlund (knee).
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