Cal Clutterbuck, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Michael Dal Colle and Devon Toews return to the New York Islanders lineup as the team prepares to resume their season against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Matt Di Giacomo

Nobody expected the New York Islanders to hold first place in October and nobody expects them to maintain it until April.

It’s exactly what the Islanders want us to think.

From puck drop in Raleigh on opening night to their 3-2 shootout loss in Chicago (where they scrounged a point when they arguably deserved none), all the Islanders have done is spit in the face of expectations.

The transformation wasn’t instantaneous, but gradual. All season long, the Islanders have slowly been buying into the system imposed by Barry Trotz and his staff, and the new breed of culture starting at the head with Lou Lamoriello.

Cory Wright of captured Lamoriello’s high praise for his squad as they wrapped up practice this morning at Northwell Health.

“I think you have to be pleased because each and every night we’ve been getting solid effort by the players. To me, what’s been very impressive is that each and every night there is a different line, or a different individual that’s come to the forefront to have success.”

There’s a positive air that’s reverberating around the Islanders locker room and their maintaining of first-place through the All-Star break has sent wave throughout Long Island.

In what was only year one of Lamoriello’s five-year plan, his team is overperforming in every expectation and will likely force his hand to make some move come February.

Today, the Islanders’ sole focus is the tough contest that awaits them in Tampa.

The Lightning are coming off of a 4-2 loss to the Penguins and are just 2-2-0 in their last four. Tampa’s dominance in the NHL thus far has been nothing short of historic, they’re on pace to have one of the league’s best seasons ever, but have faltered heading into and exiting the All-Star break thus far.

In both squad’s previous meetings, the home team took each contest. The Lightning defeated the Islanders 4-2 in Tampa on Nov. 8 and the Isles trounced the Lightning 5-1 on Jan. 13.

Fortunately for the Isles, some of the Sound Tigers will continue to stick around and continue to contribute as Thomas Hickey and Andrew Ladd continue their rehabilitation.

The first-place Islanders will be happy to see Devon Toews back up where he belongs. Toews has blossomed since his recall and scoring his first NHL goal helped catapult his confidence to where he is now.

In just 15 games, Toews already netted three goals and five points which tie the team-lead for goals by a defenseman between Ryan Pulcok, Scott Mayfield, Johnny Boychuk, and Adam Pelech. Again, at the end of tonight, Toews will have played just 16 of the Isles’ 50 games this season.

Michael Dal Colle enjoyed an All-Star weekend of his own in the AHL, and he will continue his breakout season back in the NHL. In 13 games this season Dal Colle has a goal and three points.

In preparation for tonight, Trotz, of course, named no starting lineup — as has been his style all season.

The assumption is that the NHL’s second star this month, Robin Lehner, will be in net for the Isles.

Lehner’s month of January was probably the best month of his career — he went 6-1-1 with a save percentage of .935 and a goals-against average of 1.73 with a shutout, an eight-game winning streak, and a personal record of 11-2-1 stretching back to Dec. 12.

Puck drop tonight is slated for 7 p.m. ET on MSG+.

Grew up a diehard Islanders and Mets fan based out of Northern New Jersey. Concluding my Broadcast Communications degree at William Paterson University. WP Sportsdesk member, Stan Fischler correspondent, music buff and total Star Wars freak. Follow my social media handles to learn more. Matt Di Giacomo is a Staff Writer for the Islanders on Elite Sports NY. He encourages team discussion. Tweet him @mdigiacESNY and check out his reviews on YouTube.