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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Lightning

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
When the Islanders take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday at Nassau Coliseum, there will be a lot of pressure on the young team to shutdown the Lightning’s superstars in the clubs’ third of four meetings this season.

In the first game (Oct. 21), the Islanders took a 4-3 overtime decision at St. Pete Times Forum. Just under a month later (Nov. 17), the Islanders fell 4-2 on home ice after the Lightning capitalized on two power play attempts. Too add to the fire, the Lightning have won their last four games.

“Staying disciplined and staying out of the box is going to be a huge part of (winning),” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “(Simon) Gagne’s back now, (Vincent) Lecavalier’s back now. I watched their game last night. (They had a) good game. They do have the firepower, but we’ve got to play disciplined in all three zones.”

The Islanders have begun to turn things around recently, as they’ve earned three of a possible four points in their last two games, have capitalized on their power play in three of their last four games and have scored an average of 2.4 points in their last 10 games (knocking in 24 goals since Thanksgiving).

Rob Schremp #44 of the New York Islanders misses a shootout goal against Jason LaBarbera #1 of the Phoenix Coyotes during their game on December 18, 2010 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Islanders center Rob Schremp has been a major contributor in the team’s upswing, as he has had a point in seven of the Islanders last nine games.

“A month ago, we were averaging a goal a game, which is pretty frustrating as an offensive guy,” Schremp said. “It’s almost impossible to get points and help out offensively when you’re only scoring one goal a game. The last, probably six or seven games, it’s been three goal games, four goal games, a five goal game against the Rangers. Guys are getting a little more confident.”

The center said a lot of the difference has to do with the change behind the bench.

“There’s a big difference when you change coaches,” Schremp said. “It’s not like it just changes overnight, and I think now guys are starting to settle in a little bit and are starting to get that confidence back, and get going a little bit. It’s a new system, and we’re trying to learn new stuff.  It’s not just going to change in a week. Now you see guys playing a little differently and doing different things. It’s starting to come around for us.”

But the Islanders are going up against some tough opposition. The Lightning’s top two forwards, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, have a combined 90 points; that’s more than the Islanders five top scorers combined.

The Lightning’s captain, Vincent Lecavalier, is also back in the lineup. After sitting out for 15 games due to a hand injury, Lecavalier has played the last three games, helping the Lightning to three victories for a four-game win streak. Lecavalier has two assists since his return and has 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) this season.

They have a lot of guys that can light the lamp. - Rob Schremp
“They have a lot of guys that can light the lamp,” Schremp said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup for our defense, that’s the big thing. As for the forwards, it’s big for us to come back and help in the defensive zone, but I think the neutral zone is going to be a big spot for our defensemen tomorrow. Not letting them get over our blue line, and not getting pucks in easily in the defensive zone.”

“Obviously it’s a five man unit, but in the neutral zone you’ve got to stop them there,” Schremp continued. “They have so much speed and so much skill that they can make plays in the neutral zone to get 3-on-2’s and 2-on-1’s. It’s going to be a big part of the game.”

The Islanders top defensemen will have the responsibility of shutting down Stamkos and St. Louis. Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have been an important key to the Islanders defense, as they’ve been receiving top minutes against the opposing team’s top lines. They’ve also been getting time on the Islanders second power play unit.

The Islanders have also recently received players back from injury. Milan Jurcina (hamstring) and Radek Martinek (forearm) played in their first two games last week after sitting out for 18 games and 2 games, respectively. It’s also possible that Mark Eaton will be back after sustaining a groin injury on Dec. 13, as he has practiced with the team the last two days.

“If (Eaton) goes, that will be a big boost for our lineup,” Capuano said.

Rick DiPietro was placed on injured reserve Tuesday afternoon. Capuano did not disclose whether Dwayne Roloson or Nathan Lawson would be the starting goaltender, but added, “We haven’t won a lot of games here. It’s a situation where we’ll revisit it and decide which goalie is going to give us the best chance to win the game.”

With Matt Martin’s two-game suspension, the Islanders will be short one forward, so expect there to be a transaction with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers as Capuano said, “I would think there is a good chance that (the player replacing Martin) would be someone from Bridgeport.”
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