The Islanders hope No. 1 goaltender Rick DiPietro is healthy enough to return Tuesday night as they try to record their first win over the Lightning in three years.
With DiPietro’s solid play and the trade deadline acquisition of Ryan Smyth, the Islanders seemed poised to move up the Eastern Conference standings. DiPietro, however, suffered a head injury against Montreal on March 13 and missed most of that game and the next two, resulting in New York’s first three-game skid since a six-game slide from Dec. 27-Jan. 6.
After allowing 18 goals in their last three games, the Islanders (34-27-10) are hopeful DiPietro can start Tuesday. He took part in his first practice since the injury on Monday and did not rule out the possibility of starting.
“We’ll see. It’s just too early to tell right now,” DiPietro said on the Islanders’ official Web site. “I had a good practice and that’s a good start. But let’s see how the morning skate goes tomorrow and then take it from there. Like I said, we have to be cautious. We have to make a decision based on what’s best for me and the team, long-term.”
If DiPietro is unable to play, Wade Dubielewicz is likely to make his first start of the season in place of ineffective veteran Mike Dunham, who has allowed 16 goals on 93 shots in the last three games. Dubielewicz, who made his season debut Thursday at Ottawa in relief of Dunham, is 3-3-1 with a 2.50 goals-against average in 10 NHL games.
Whoever starts in net for the Islanders will try to help them end a seven-game losing streak to the Lightning (39-30-4). New York has lost all three meetings this season and is 0-5-2 in the series since a 3-0 victory on March 21, 2004.
The Islanders matched a season high with three power-play goals Saturday, but were again let down by their defense and goaltending in an 8-5 loss at Florida.
“We’ve been spoiled by having a premier goaltender,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “Before we were stopping most of those shots. Now, they’re winding up in the back of the net.”
Two Islanders that have been doing more than their share lately are Smyth and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, both recently acquired from Edmonton.
Smyth has four goals and six assists in eight games with New York, and Bergeron has five goals and 10 assists in 12 contests.
New York is tied with Toronto and Montreal for ninth in the East, two points behind eighth-place Carolina. Tampa Bay is in sixth place, but only one point ahead of the surging New York Rangers.
After losing their last two games by 3-2 scores, the Lightning had their worst performance of the season Sunday in a 7-1 loss at Washington.
“We didn’t let it get away,” Tampa Bay forward Brad Richards. “We never really had it tonight. This is going to be forgotten as soon as we walk out of the dressing room. We realized what we did, and we cannot come out like that again.”
Vincent Lecavalier, who had his seven-game overall point streak snapped Sunday, has four goals and six assists during a seven-game point streak against the Islanders.