UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The New York Islanders’ “Kid Line” is playing some grown-up hockey.
Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, each of whom is a first or second-year player, are a big reason the Islanders bring a 22-10-0 record into their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.
Nelson and Lee did all the scoring Friday when the Islanders edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena. Nelson’s goal was his team-high 14th and Lee’s was his sixth. Strome has six goals and 21 points, and he’s a team-high plus-12.
“When you have success, you’re doing the right things with and without the puck in all three zones,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “That’s one thing we stress; it’s a defense-first mentality. If you look at the chances they’re getting, it’s coming off their defensive play. They’re also going to the net. To me, they’re working hard and doing all the right things.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said opponents can no longer focus solely on stopping the Islanders’ top line, centered by John Tavares.
“You can’t look past that Nelson-Strome-Lee line,” he said.
This is the third and final game of the season between the Islanders and Lightning. Each team won 5-2 in its own building during a four-day stretch last month; in each game, the winning team was rested and the loser was playing the second half of a back-to-back.
Things are even this time; each team played Friday. The Lightning had the shorter trip to Long Island; they took a bus to Uniondale after a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
Cooper, whose team is playing the finale of a five-game, eight-day trip, was impressed by his earlier looks at the Islanders.
“The one thing is that they’re deep,” he said. “They can come at you in waves. A lot of their team makeup is very similar to our team, and they’re getting great goaltending from [Jaroslav] Halak. They can play the grit game with you, they can play the speed-skill game with you, and that makes them kind of dangerous. It’s probably fitting that we’ve split so far.”
Halak will start again for New York after making 17 saves in the victory at Detroit. It’s the first time this season he’ll play both ends of a back-to-back.
“[He saw] 18, 19 shots last night,” Capuano said. “I thought we played a pretty solid game. He’s playing well right now, so we’ll go back to him.”
With Lightning starter Ben Bishop out with a lower-body injury sustained Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy will get his second NHL start. Vasilevskiy made 23 saves Tuesday in his NHL debut, a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. Former Islander Evgeni Nabokov played against New Jersey.
The Lightning lead the NHL with 112 goals, and Capuano said he has no interest in playing run-and-gun with them.
“You don’t want to get into a track meet with them,” he said. “They’ve got a quick hockey club. They’ve got a lot of skill, and they score a lot of goals. We can’t change the way that we play and worry about what they’re going to do. We have to play Islander hockey and make sure we take away some of their time and space with some of their skill guys, because they’re going to get opportunities, and try to grind this one out.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Jonathan Drouin - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat - Valtteri Filppula - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Matt Carle - Radko Gudas
Scratched: Mark Barberio
Injured: Ben Bishop (lower body), Tyler Johnson (illness)
Josh Bailey - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski - Frans Nielsen - Nikolay Kulemin
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Lubomir Visnovsky
Scratched: Eric Boulton, Brian Strait, Matt Donovan
Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body), Matt Carkner (back)
Status report: Johnson, the Lightning’s No. 2 scorer behind Stamkos, missed the game in New Jersey with an illness but skated Saturday morning. Cooper said he’ll be a game-time decision. Bishop skated for the second straight morning. “He’s getting closer,” Cooper said, “but he’s not ready.” … Grabner will miss his third consecutive game.
Who’s hot: Kucherov has four goals and three assists during a five-game point streak. His last-minute goal Friday sent the game to overtime. Callahan, who will be playing his 500th NHL game, had two assists Friday; the Lightning is 14-0-0 when he scores a goal, dating back to his acquisition at the NHL Trade Deadline in March. … Nelson has 14 goals and 26 points in 32 games. He had the exact same totals in 72 games last season. Halak has won three consecutive decisions, allowing a total of five goals.