New York Islanders (5-6-2) at Tampa Bay Lightning (7-5-1)
7:30 p.m., Amalie Arena
Radio: 660AM, 101.9FM WFAN, 88.7FM WRHU, 103.9FM LI News
The New York Islanders first real road trip of the season is long overdue.
They've had a frontloaded home schedule with 10 of their first 13 games at Barclays Center and nearly a month into the season, the Islanders haven't played two consecutive games outside of New York City limits.
That changes with a two-game swing down to Florida, where they play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
"If you ask the guys I think it's good to get on the road," head coach Jack Capuano said. "Team meals, team camaraderie, some team building. You're at home for a while and there's nothing you can do about the schedule, it is what it is. We didn't do the best job of the home schedule, but it's a real good time for our guys to get on the road and have some quality time together."
Newcomers like Jason Chimera see the flights, bus rides and 24/7 togetherness as a positive.
"I love my family to death, but it's nice to go on the road and spend some time with your teammates that you don't know, especially a new guy like me coming in here you want to get some time, dinner with them and get to know them a bit better. That helps build team chemistry too."
Video: The Islanders look ahead to games in Florida
Islanders Return Mathew Barzal to Junior:
Mathew Barzal, the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, was returned to the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds on Wednesday morning. The reason: development. Barzal played in two games for the Islanders after sticking around with the club after training camp, but management felt he'd be better suited to get regular reps in Seattle.
"For us as a staff we met with Mathew really with the sentiment that we have now is that it's best for his development to go back and play some hockey," Head Coach Jack Capuano said.
His limited appearances were never an indictment on his skill, but rather the result of the Islanders depth at center. It was tough for him to crack the lineup with established guys like John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas down the middle.
"He's a great teammate and has a high-character personality about him," Capuano said. "He's got a great work ethic about him. He's going to be an Islander for a long time. I know that Garth, myself and all of the coaches have a lot of confidence in him."
Read more - including John Tavares' reaction and message to Barzal - at Islanders Day-To-Day.
Isles vs. Bolts:
The Islanders are looking to avenge a 6-1 loss to the Lightning on Nov. 1, where an early five-minute major put the Islanders down early and the game snowballed from there. While the Lightning only scored once on the extended penalty - another would-be goal was called back - the Islanders conceded two power-play goals on the night, as well as a shorthanded marker. The mantra heading into Thursday's game - stay out of the box.
"We have to make sure we stay disciplined," Capuano told reporters at Wednesday's practice. "They are a good hockey team, they have good special teams. We have to try to play 5-on-5 as much as we can."
The Lightning's offense has been erratic over the past eight games. They've averaged five goals per game over three wins and a shootout loss, but have been held to one goal in all four regulation losses.
Nikita Kucherov had a four-point night against the Islanders 10 days ago, scoring a pair of goals while adding two assists. The Russian forward had his four-game point streak snapped in Monday's loss to the Florida Panthers, but is still Tampa Bay's leading scorer with 15 points (4G, 11A) in 12 games this season.
UPDATE: Filppula took morning skate for the Lightning and is likely to play. Anton Stralman is confirmed as in for the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy will start in goal.
Jonathan Drouin (upper body) and Valtteri Filppula (lower body) are both expected to be out for the Lightning. Drouin hasn't played since taking a hit from Calvin de Haan on Nov. 1, while Filppula missed the Lightning's last game against Florida.
Travis Hamonic (upper body) and Ryan Pulock (lower body) are both out for the Islanders.