For all their offensive talent, the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely rest with goaltender Johan Holmqvist. If his recent play is any indication, his teammates should be very comfortable with that.
Holmqvist looks to lead the Lightning to their fourth straight win Saturday night when the punchless New York Islanders make their first visit of the season to the St. Pete Times Forum.
Tampa Bay (13-13-2) has been searching for a reliable starting goaltender since Nikolai Khabibulin left after leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.
After splitting time last year with Marc Denis, Holmqvist has earned the role as the team’s top netminder this season. He has been in goal for all 13 of the Lightning’s wins, and is 3-0-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average in his past three starts.
Those numbers are in stark contrast to his previous four games, during which he went 0-4-0 with a 3.33 GAA.
Holmqvist came within 14 seconds of a shutout Thursday in a 2-1 victory over Carolina.
“I didn’t really care (about the shutout), as long as we win the game,” said Holmqvist, who made 23 saves. “The guys played really hard in front of me the whole night long.”
Holmqvist has never lost in four starts against Islanders, going 4-0-0 with a 2.20 GAA.
Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis each had a goal and an assist in the win, which allowed Tampa Bay to continue its strong play home as it improved to an Eastern Conference-best 11-3-1 there. The Lightning also have won four straight at home against the Islanders since a 3-1 loss on March 16, 2004.
Lecavalier, who recorded his league-leading 17th multi-point game of the season Thursday, has five goals and six assists in his last eight games against New York. With an NHL-best 44 points in 28 games, Tampa Bay’s star center is on pace for 128 points, easily surpassing the career-high 108 he had last season when he finished third behind San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
The Islanders (13-12-2) had their season-high losing streak extended to five games Friday with a 3-0 loss at Florida.
New York, shut out for the second time during the skid, has scored a league-low 60 goals. The Islanders have tallied two goals or fewer in 13 of the last 15 games, managing three in the other two contests.
“We have to take it upon ourselves, every one of us has got to look in the mirror,” coach Ted Nolan said. “It might sound like a broken record, but the bottom line is we’ve got to work harder. If you don’t work, you’re going to have nights like this. Right now, we’re having a lot of those.”
New York’s top players continue to struggle, none more than captain Bill Guerin, who has gone 16 games without a goal. Ruslan Fedotenko has no goals in his last 10 contests and Trent Hunter has scored once in 15 games.
Strong goaltending from Rick DiPietro has kept the Islanders in most games, but he has had limited success in his career against the Lightning, going 3-5-3 with a 2.57 GAA in 12 appearances.
He did, however, help the Islanders end an eight-game losing streak in the series by making 28 saves in a 4-0 victory at Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 1.