Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and his teammates shake hands with Islanders...

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and his teammates shake hands with Islanders right wing Josh Bailey, front right, and his teammates after Game 7 of an NHL Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series on June 25 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s a crucial game, and not because of the opponent. Barry Trotz has said the Islanders need to be a "better version" of themselves, and the players know the only way they can show they agree with their coach is by improving their performances.

The Islanders (5-4-2), who have lost two straight by a combined 9-2, return to Amalie Arena to face the two-time Stanley Cup champion Lightning on Monday night for the first time since losing Game 7 of the NHL semifinals, 1-0, on a shorthanded goal on June 25.

The Islanders, who finally will conclude their 13-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers, also lost to the Lightning in the NHL final four in 2020.

"It’s a big game for us," Matt Martin said after the Islanders practiced on Sunday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "Not so much because of last season. Last season was last season. Or the last two years were the last two years."

The Islanders have had an up-and-down start to this season through their lengthy road trip, which included a 5-0-2 run. But the Islanders’ four regulation defeats, including Thursday night’s 4-0 loss to the Devils, have come by an aggregate 20-6. Their power play is 4-for-28, including 0-for-8 in their last four games, and has allowed two shorthanded goals.

After Saturday’s practice, Trotz said, "I’ve got too many guys that are just playing. I need them to be a little more of a better version of themselves."

Not that the players aren’t aware of that. Trotz would never make that kind of public statement without saying it to his players first.

It started on Dec. 20, 2017, when the Islanders' proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont was approved. Now the doors open to the Islanders' new home, UBS Arena. Credit: Newsday

"It’s expected," Martin said. "We need to be better. We’re a veteran group, we understand what’s expected of us. If you go around the locker room, every one of us will tell you that we can be better. You better look in the mirror sometimes and realize that you can do more and not just accept where you’re at. If we can find a way to pull off two wins this weekend, we’ll put ourselves in a pretty good position after 13 road games.

"We’re not going to get our revenge [Monday] by winning a hockey game. But we can start to build toward the team that we want to be. The focus is the Stanley Cup, not winning one regular-season game against the Tampa Bay Lightning."

Notes & quotes: Casey Cizikas returned to practice after missing Saturday’s session because of non-COVID-19 illness . . . Trotz called the departure of pesky Leo Komarov, headed to the KHL after being placed on unconditional waivers to mutually terminate the final season of his four-year, $12 million deal, "sad on a lot of levels . . . You talk about chemistry and culture and people that show up every day at work and bring a smile to your face. I’d love to be a player on a team with Leo Komarov. There’s some great stories. He keeps you laughing. Just being Uncle Leo. That was what made him special."

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