New York (11-10-7) at Tampa Bay (10-9-8)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Tampa, FL
Temp: 77° F
  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Sat Dec 5, 2009
  • TV: MSG+2, SUN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

After finishing with the league’s worst record in 2008-09, the New York Islanders have made great strides in the first two months of this season.

Among the biggest reasons for that improvement is the steady goaltending of Dwayne Roloson(notes).

Roloson likely will make a second consecutive start for the Islanders on Saturday night when they continue a five-game trip against the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning.

With franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro(notes) sidelined by knee surgery, the Islanders struggled last season with career backups Joey MacDonald(notes) and Yann Danis(notes) splitting time in the No. 1 role. Knowing DiPietro needed more time to recover, the Islanders signed veterans Roloson and Martin Biron(notes) in the offseason to carry the load until DiPietro is healthy enough to return.

While Roloson and Biron have mostly split time, there is little doubt the team performs better with Roloson in net. The Islanders (11-10-7) are 9-2-5 in games Roloson starts while going 2-8-2 in Biron’s 14 starts.

Roloson, who made a career-high 58 saves in a 4-3 overtime win at Toronto on Nov. 23, won his third consecutive start with 26 stops in a 4-1 victory at Atlanta on Thursday night. The 40-year-old is 4-2-0 with one tie and a 2.10 goals-against average in seven career starts against Tampa Bay (10-9-8).

While Roloson has anchored New York’s defense, unheralded Matt Moulson(notes) has spearheaded the offense.

Signed as a free agent July 6 after playing 29 games with Los Angeles the previous two seasons, Moulson recorded his first career hat trick Thursday and leads the Islanders with 14 goals. His 22 points tie him for the team lead with rookie John Tavares(notes).

“I love scoring. I love winning. It’s huge, especially against Atlanta, who is playing real well,” Moulson said. “To hold them to one goal says a lot about our defense.”

Tavares scored his 11th goal - tops among rookies - into an empty net in the final seconds. This will be the first head-to-head matchup between Tavares and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman(notes) - the two top picks in this year’s draft. Hedman has no goals and seven assists in 26 games.

New York, which has yet to win consecutive road games this season, won three of four meetings with the Lightning in 2008-09, splitting two contests at St. Pete Times Forum.

Tampa Bay looks to rebound from a disheartening 3-2 loss - its fourth straight - at New Jersey on Friday night. Jamie Langenbrunner’s(notes) go-ahead goal with 38.1 seconds left in regulation came just 2:21 after Steve Downie(notes) lifted the Lightning into a 2-2 tie.

New Jersey’s first two goals came on power plays.

“They were stupid penalties,” Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. “Sometimes when pressure is on, people do stupid things. We’ve got to straighten out this penalty killing quick.

“Then in the last seconds, we have no tenacity to clear the front of our net. Those are ways to lose, and that’s what happens when you lose three or four in a row.”

Vincent Lecavalier(notes) also scored for Tampa Bay - his sixth of the season, one more than teammate Martin St. Louis(notes). Lecavalier and St. Louis combined for 59 goals last season.

St. Louis, a five-time 30-goal scorer, failed to record a point for the fourth straight game and has gone seven in a row without a goal. He hasn’t found the back of the net in nine consecutive games against the Islanders. Lecavalier, though, has five goals in his last four contests against New York.

Mike Smith(notes) likely will be in net for the Lightning looking to continue his superb goaltending at home. Smith is 3-0-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average in five home starts this season but has never faced the Islanders.

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Saturday, Dec 5