It would be fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the first half surprises in the NHL to start the 2010-11 season.
Through 51 games played they have a 31-15-5 record (67 points) and more importantly they are eleven points ahead of the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes. As they come out of the All Star break it is time for them to position themselves heading into the stretch run for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Lightning are already two games into a 12-game home stand that sees the team at home for the entire month of February. Home ice has been good for the Lightning as they have one of the best home records in the league at 16-4-2. As long as the Lightning can continue to strive at home then they should be in position to win the Southeast Division for the first time since 2004 and have home ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
On the ice the team is being paced by NHL goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos and Marty St Louis but those guys need a little bit of help from Vinnie Lecavalier and Simon Gagne if they are going to challenge for the Eastern Conference top spot. Both Lecavalier and Gagne have showed signs of playing much better in the last few games heading into the break. Since returning from injury in the middle of December, Lecaviller posted 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 games has scored five goals and 14 points in 21 games and Gagne’s recent form has seen him on fire with six goals in last eight games.
One player to watch down the stretch is Teddy Purcell, who is quietly fourth on the team in scoring with 30 points, which includes a goal and four assists in the last two games before the All Star break. Purcell is starting to gain a lot of confidence and understanding of how hard he has to work to play well in the NHL. Coach Guy Boucher has told him that he has to get his nose dirty if he wants to be a good player in this league and the results are starting to show for the former UMaine Black Bear.
The Bolts are also going to take the next couple of weeks to look at the makeup of the roster and have to decide if they are going to be active at the trade deadline. There are not any obvious holes that need to be filled after the team acquired goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders, who has brought stability between the pipes.
Some will question whether this team has the necessary physical makeup that teams need for the long deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Does this team need a physical presence on the ice to open up play for its superstars such as Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Lecavalier and Gagne?
The Lightning are going to provide a lot of excitement for the fans in the Tampa Bay area. The team is now “all in” heading into the final 31 games of the 2010-11 season.