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The Week Ahead: Sunshine and Starpower

New for this season, Our Rob Taub will give his preview of the week ahead for the New York Islanders. There will be what to watch for, and one x-factor for both the Isles and the opposing team they face that night.

It’s hard to believe, but the hockey season is already two months old. For the New York Islanders, those two months have been everything they could have wanted. The team is coming off an 8-3-1 November, and is only three points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. Looking ahead at the final month of 2017, the schedule is home heavy with the club playing eight out of 14 games at Barclays Center — where the team has only suffered one regulation loss so far.

As for this week, there’s a ton of tests coming Doug Weight’s club way, all from the East. This week, and every week you can say will speak a lot about this season going forward. But the four games facing the Isles the next seven days are massive when it comes to respect in the conference and themselves.

Tonight: at Florida Panthers

This evening, the Islanders will see old friend, Jack Capuano and his club, the Florida Panthers. Tonight, will be the first of three meeting between the two clubs, with the Panthers taking two of three from New York a year ago. Playing in Sunrise has been somewhat of a house of horrors for the Isles for many years now. But with how strong New York has played on the road since the beginning of November, tonight is not a game they can just look past.

Florida has begun to play well as of late, but has struggled at home from the start of the season. For the Islanders, their offense is still lightning up the scoreboard, while the defense and goaltending have taken a hit as of late.

Matchup to watch: The much-improved Islanders power play against the bad Panthers penalty kill.

X-Factors: Jordan Eberle, Alexander Barkov

Tuesday: at Tampa Bay Lightning

After playing in Sunrise, the Isles will take the short bus ride down to Tampa for back end of two games in two nights to take on the Lightning. It was only three weeks ago these teams met with the Islanders coming out on top 5-3 in one of their best team efforts of the season. New York made a statement that night by handing Tampa just their second regulation loss at Amalie Arena. So coming out with that same mentality for a second night in less than 24 hours will be an extremely tough task.

Mathcup to watch: New York’s deadly offense against Tampa’s vaunted offense. These two teams rank number one and two respectively in the league in goals for per game. This game could be a nightmare for the goalies and the coaches in terms of defense.

X-Factors: Nick Leddy, Victor Hedman

Thursday: at Pittsburgh Penguins

Once the Islanders get enough sun down in Florida, they head back up North for a pivotal division showdown with the back-to-back defending Cup champs in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The rivalry between the Isles and Pens has had some memorable moments the past several seasons, and the games the two teams put on are always on the edge of your seat, exhilarating hockey. Last year, the Penguins and Islanders split the season series 2-2, with two of those games being decided by one goal.

Anytime the Islanders go to the Steel City, they know they must bring their A-game, especially with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the other side of the ice.

Matchup to watch: New York’s defense and Pittsburgh’s defense. Both these clubs are in the bottom-ten of goals against per game, only one spot apart with the Isles at 23 and Pitt at 24.

X-Factors: Phil Kessel, Anders Lee

Saturday: at Boston Bruins

Over the weekend, the Islanders will end their crucial four-game trip with a night in Beantown against the Bruins. In three games last year, the Islanders took two, while the B’s took one, which ended up being the most important one in mid-March which cost New York a playoff spot for a third straight season. The Isles have had more success in Boston over the past few seasons, but TD Garden is always a hostile environment, which Doug Weight is well aware of.

What these two teams have in common, is they have yet to discover who their number one goalie is this season. It should be another hard-fought game for the Isles, who will want to end their trip on a high note.

Matchup to watch: The Isles power play against the sturdy Bruins penalty kill. New York ranks in the top ten on the man-advantage, while the B’s are top-five on the penalty kill this year.

X-Factors: David Pastrnak, Andrew Ladd

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