ST. PETERSBURG (AP) – Steven Stamkos is a major reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a strong start. That could continue with another dominant performance at home.
Stamkos looks to continue his success at St. Pete Times Forum when the Lightning attempt to beat the New York Islanders for the ninth time in 11 meetings there Thursday night.
Tampa Bay (4-1-0) is off to its best start in seven years, and Stamkos has been a force with a team-high five goals and four assists. The club struggled early in each of the last two seasons, but has already matched its win total from all of last October.
Stamkos feels the Lightning can capitalize on this early success, as they attempt to make a run at their first playoff berth since 2007.
“It’s huge,” said Stamkos, who had career highs of 51 goals and 44 assists last season. “It’s night and day from the last two years where we’ve got off to a slow start. It really sets the momentum for the year. If you’re behind the eight-ball, it’s really tough to get going.”
The 20-year-old center has had outstanding production the last 24 games in Tampa, collecting 20 goals and 20 assists, including three of each in two contests this season. He scored a goal and set up two others in a 5-4 win over Dallas on Monday, as the Lightning held a 44-19 shot advantage.
That solid effort followed a 6-0 loss at Florida on Saturday.
“The focus every game right now is on improvement, whether we win or lose,” said center Dominic Moore, who scored twice against the Stars after a minus-3 performance Saturday.
Stamkos could be in for another big effort against the Islanders (3-1-2). He has four goals and three assists in the last three meetings, including a three-point game in a 5-2 home victory Feb. 4.
The Lightning are 8-0-2 in the last 10 home matchups with New York. They won three of four overall against the Islanders last season.
Tampa, though, could be without captain Vincent Lecavalier for this matchup after he sat out Monday’s win with a hand injury sustained when he was hit by a shot against the Panthers.
The center has seven goals and eight assists in the last 10 home games versus New York.
The Islanders continued their surprising play with a 2-1 overtime win at previously unbeaten Toronto on Monday.
John Tavares scored the game-winner for New York, which opened a stretch where it plays 10 of 12 games on the road. Dwayne Roloson was excellent again, stopping 29 of 30 shots to improve his save percentage to .942.
“This whole month, we’re going to be on the road a lot so just to get over the hump and get a win on the road early in the season is always great for the team’s confidence … and hopefully we can carry that over into our trip,” Roloson told the team’s official website.
Roloson was 0-3-0 with a 4.01 goals-against average last season against the Lightning. Rick DiPietro hasn’t faced Tampa Bay since allowing a career-high eight goals in an 8-4 loss March 11, 2008.
Already missing top defenseman Mark Streit, top-line forward Kyle Okposo and center Rob Schremp, the Islanders could also be without forward Josh Bailey on Thursday. Bailey, tied for the team lead with six points, left in the second period Monday with a hip flexor.
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