TAMPA, Fla. — The NHL schedule provides opportunities for quick revenge sometimes, and nine days after the Tampa Bay Lightning handed the New York Islanders a 6-1 loss on their home ice, the two teams square off again at Amalie Arena on Thursday.
The Islanders (5-6-2) ended a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win Monday against Vancouver — the Canucks’ ninth straight loss — while the Lightning hope to bounce back from a 3-1 loss at Florida on Tuesday that left them with a 7-5-1 record.
Tampa Bay eliminated the Islanders in five games in last year’s conference semifinals, averaging 3.6 goals per game and winning four straight after losing Game 1. Their offense was on display in last week’s rematch, with left wing Nikita Kucherov scoring two goals with two assists as the Lightning tagged goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss for three goals each.
Special teams has been a big part of the Lightning’s early success — Tampa Bay ranks fifth in the NHL on power play, with a 25 percent (13/52) success rate, and they’re seventh in the league on penalty kill, holding opponents scoreless 88 percent of the time.
"Our penalty kill has been pretty good the last couple of years. When you keep that cohesive unit, it’s usually pretty beneficial," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The other thing is we have good goaltending, which is always your best penalty kill."
Goalie Ben Bishop is just 5-4 to start the season, with a 2.90 goals-against average up considerably from last year’s 2.06, which made him a Vezina Trophy finalist.
"We’ve really needed our special teams — it’s bailed us out of several games, especially when we’ve fallen behind," Cooper said.
The Islanders haven’t been as fortunate on their special teams — they rank 26th in power play, with just four goals in 37 opportunities (10.8 percent) and rank 25th on the penalty kill, stopping just 77 percent of their opponent’s power plays.
Monday’s win against Vancouver saw the long-awaited first goals for two new arrivals in left wings Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, who had totaled just four assists in the Islanders’ first 12 games, but both found the back of the net against the Canucks.
"Tampa will be a good test for us. It’s nice to get on the road, spend some time with your teammates & build team chemistry," said Chimera, now 37 and in his 15th NHL season.
The Lightning hope to get promising forward Jonathan Drouin back soon from an upper-body injury that has now sidelined him the last three games. Their power play hasn’t skipped a beat without him, but the offense as a whole could use a boost — Kucherov is tied for fifth in the league with 15 points — four goals and 11 assists, while center Steven Stamkos is just behind with 14 points, including seven goals. Center John Tavares leads the Islanders with 11 points on five goals and six assists.