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Game Preview: Islanders @ Lightning

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The New York Islanders made a trade earlier this season that had many fans questioning management’s decisions. That trade sent Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Ty Wishart. Now, for the first time since the trade, the Islanders will faceoff against their old teammate on Tuesday night at St. Pete Times Forum.

“We definitely want to win,” forward Michael Grabner said. “Every time you play against an old teammate, it brings a little extra motivation to win the game. We’ll just have to work real hard and hopefully get some goals on him.”

After the trade, the unthinkable happened. Injuries began to plague the Islanders goaltenders, forcing Islanders general manager Garth Snow to make some important decisions. He claimed Evgeni Nabakov off waivers, and when he would not report, Snow suspended him. Then, there were the call-ups of Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin. Lawson and Poulin fell to injuries as did Rick DiPietro. It was after battling through all of this that Snow acquired Al Montoya in a trade with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Goaltender Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders keeps the puck in play against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center on March 19, 2011 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Since then, Montoya has been rock solid for the Islanders, posting a 7-3-5 record, a .920 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average. DiPietro has also returned to game action, and he looked solid making 29 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

There are many positives to having a veteran goaltender like DiPietro back in the lineup.

“We’ve had problems back there having six guys with injuries,” Capuano said. “A lot of guys have played extremely well for us, but having Ricky (DiPietro) is great. It’s more than just what his play means. Having him in the room and around the guys, he keeps things loose. He’s got a great personality. When you have a young team like ours, it’s important.”

Whether Montoya or DiPietro start on Tuesday night, the Islanders will have confidence in their goaltending.

But they’ll have more to worry about than just getting the puck past Roloson. The Lightning have one of the top power plays in the league, with a 20.8% success rate.

“Without a doubt, watching them in the last couple of games, Roli (Dwayne Roloson) is playing pretty strong for them in the net,” Capuano said. “Up front, they have six or seven guys that are as good as anyone in the league, but the one thing that we have to be aware of is we have to stay out of the penalty box because their power play is pretty dangerous.”

The Islanders penalty kill may have faltered, letting up three power play goals against the Rangers last week. But the team has got back to basics and even recorded a shorthanded goal on Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers.

“We got to back to our PK principles and started doing the right things,” Capuano said. “When you do that you have success. It’s always a challenge on the penalty kill when you play against their union of (Steven) Stamkos, (Simon) Gagne, (Martin) St. Louis, (Vincent) Lecavallier, and the guys that they have.”

Capuano continued, “It’s a pretty potent power play. They’re experienced guys that have been around, so when the power plays do come tomorrow night, we’ll have to be on our toes on our penalty kill and make sure that we try to take as much time and space away as we can.”

With the shorthanded goal from Grabner the other night against the Panthers, there are now two Islanders players with 30 goals this season. The Islanders rookie and Matt Moulson have been vying for the team lead in goals for a large portion of the season, but with 26 goals, John Tavares isn’t too far behind.

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders digs out the puck against Dmitry Kulikov #91 of the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center on March 19, 2011 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
While the team helps each other by remaining positive and pushing each other to improve, Tavares has come to learn a lot in his sophomore season.

“It’s hard to just point out one specific move, but you learn to create more time and space and you understand how much time you have, which changes your options,” Tavares said. “Sometimes you see a passing lane much quicker. The shooting lanes are there much quicker. So you just seem to make the right play more often and knowing you’re confident with those plays.”

Scoring is just a part of that improvement.

“I’d say competition exists with everyone that’s looked upon to score goals and create offense,” Tavares said. “You see someone else do well and it makes you want to contribute too and score as many as you can. So we’ve definitely pushed each other. That’s how we’re going to get better as individuals and as a team moving forward.”

The team has said all year that they’ve wanted earn the respect of teams across the league. Since the All Star Break, they’ve been proving that. They’ve even earned points in all but one of their contests just this month alone, posting a 5-1-4 record.

“We execute a lot better when we need to get pucks in on the forecheck or we need to get pucks out of the defensive zone,” Tavares said. “Just as an example, we are executing a lot more, which then leads to transitions and good offense, more scoring opportunities and more goals. So it all adds together. The work ethic is there, the execution is there and the confidence with everybody knowing they can make a difference out there every game.”

As for earning respect across the league, Tavares said, “We still have a long ways to go. This half of the season, we’ve played really well. For us, a lot of it is going to be defined by how we play next year and how we put it all together, but this has been a great sign for us as a hockey club and for us as an organization, but it’s up to us as players to make the difference.”

The Islanders-Lightning matchup will conclude their three-game road trip, but the Isles will continue to try to earn as many points as they can in the nine remaining games they have this season.
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