As the Tampa Bay Lightning (12-7-2) head towards the quarter pole of the season it’s a good time to look back at the season so far. The team came out of the gates very fast going 7-2-1 on October to become the darlings of the NHL. Then injuries hit (Simon Gage has only played in six games and lost captain Vinnie Lecavalier on 11/14 for five weeks) and the team seemed to be get no bounces as they went on a frustrating stint in November in which they lost six of seven. As they head into the game against the New York Rangers they have won four in a row.
Specialty teams have been a big part of the early season success, as the Lightning are 4th in the NHL on the power play and 3rd on the penalty kill through 21 games this season. Some of the new faces the team brought in during the offseason have really paid off. Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim have really clicked with Coach Guy Boucher’s up tempo system as both guys have scored important goals already this season while playing big minutes. So as the team heads into the next quarter of the season they are going to need to start getting production from Gagne and Lecavalier.
Keep an eye on the continued maturation of Victor Hedman; he is playing over 20 minutes per game as a 2nd year player. As he starting to blossom into the player they thought they would be getting when theydrafted him 2nd overall in 2009 entry draft. Once his offensive game catches up Hedman is going to be a force in this league, as he is really starting to impose his big body in games.
The team could not be happier with another young player in Dana Tyrell; he has found a home on the energy line with Nate Thompson and Adam Hall. The energy line has been the team’s most consistent line through the early part of the season.
Steven Stamkos is in the upper echelon of players in the NHL, right below Ovechkin and Crosby. That is no longer a question any longer as Stamkos continues to score at a record pace this year and if you go back to February 2009, Stamkos leads the league by far in goals scored with 87. If Marty St Louis has anything to say about it he will make a run at 50 goals in 50 games, he has currently scored 20 goals in 21 games.
If the Bolts have any chance at making a run at the playoffs they have to get their goaltending situation solidified. Both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have been outstanding at times. Ellis had two shutouts against Phoenix and Toronto but was in net against Washington Capitals a 6-3 loss and took the brunt of the punishment against Philadelphia in which he gave up four goals in the 8-7 win. In that game Smith came in gave up three goals but the team got the win in the epic back and forth slugfest, he also followed that relief performance with two solid games in wins against Buffalo on Saturday and Boston on Monday night. So which guy is going to make his mark and put a consistent, effort which is going to lead this team to the playoffs?
As the trade deadline begins to get a little closer on the horizon names that you may start hearing rumors about may start with Ryan Malone. Malone is a very good player but I am not sure he has the speed and skill to play effectively in Boucher system. His $4 million cap hit may get to a point where it would make more sense to move Malone then keep him, unless his production start to warrant that cap number. Thru 21 games Malone as 3 goals 9 assists for 12 points but he is a team high minus-10.