They may be far out of the playoff race, but the New York Islanders have been playing much better lately.
The Islanders go for their first four-game winning streak of the season on Tuesday night as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have been shut out in their last two visits to Nassau Coliseum.
New York (15-29-5) owns easily the worst record in the NHL, but has suddenly matched its longest winning streak of the season with three straight victories following an eight-game losing streak. The Islanders, who beat Florida 3-1 on Saturday at home, now have a chance to win four in a row for the first time since a six-game run from Feb. 12-21 of last season.
The final victory in that streak was a 1-0 triumph over the Lightning in which Rick DiPietro made 32 saves. New York’s franchise goalie was also between the pipes for Tampa Bay’s previous visit - a 4-0 Islanders win on Nov. 1, 2007.
Knee and groin injuries have limited DiPietro to five games this season, but the Isles managed to beat the Lightning 4-3 in Florida on Oct. 16, when Joey MacDonald stopped 33 shots before Trent Hunter’s second goal of the game won it in overtime.
Hunter assisted on rookie Kyle Okposo’s goal on Saturday. The 20-year-old rookie right wing has five goals - half of his season total - in the last four contests.
“(Kyle is) playing with the puck with confidence now,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “We’re seeing him do more with the puck. Not just tonight, but he’s doing things that have opened my eyes that I didn’t know was in his repertoire.”
Okposo, who had an assist in the Oct. 16 win over Tampa Bay, scored just one goal in his first 15 games this season.
Yann Davis just missed his second career shutout on Saturday, making 37 saves but allowing a goal to Gregory Campbell with 1:27 remaining. The Islanders are the only team in the NHL without a shutout this season.
“All that matters to me is the win,” said Danis, 3-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA in his last three starts. “I don’t care if it’s 3-1, 3-2, or 3-0, as long as we win.”
Tampa Bay (17-23-10) has lost two straight following a three-game winning streak, and the Lightning appear frustrated. Mark Recchi and Steven Stamkos each had a goal disallowed by video replay in Friday’s 6-1 home loss to Philadelphia. After the game, Recchi appeared to blame the officials.
“They have to do better than that,” he said. “We’re fighting for our playoff life and calls like that really hurt our hockey club. It’s not right. I think they made some mistakes tonight.”
Recchi needs one point on Tuesday to take sole possession of 16th place on the NHL’s all-time list. He’s tied with Doug Gilmour with 1,414.
Mike Smith, who allowed all six Flyers goals Saturday, has missed two straight days of practice with an upper-body injury. The Lightning are likely to sign Mike McKenna from Norfolk of the AHL for goaltending insurance prior to Tuesday’s game.