Last night’s loss to the Washington Capitals marked only the fourth time this year that the Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed four or more goals against in a game. Pretty impressive considering that last night’s contest was the 44th game of the Lightning season thus far. Throughout those 44 games, Steven Stamkos has only played in 17, after breaking his tibia on November 11th in a game against the Boston Bruins. Stamkos has since skated in full pads, and is also walking without the assistance of crutches. Stamkos was selected to Team Canada’s Olympic roster, and is expected to be recovered enough to skate on the big ice in Sochi.
After Stamkos was injured, many people expected the Lightning to falter, which they did, winning only 4 out of 10 games following his injury. After that disappointing stretch, the Lightning had a phenomenal month of December, going 7-3-3 and finishing 2013 in 2nd place in the Atlantic division, only behind the Boston Bruins. Their success seems to have carried over into the new year, as they have gone 3-2-0 so far in the month of January, and have been able to retain their 2nd place position in the Atlantic division, as well as being 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference. Despite the loss of Steven Stamkos, the Lightning’s offense has found a way to get it done, and team captain Martin St. Louis has led the way with 41 points in 44 games. The team’s young forwards like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn have also been contributing in Stamkos’s absence, with Killorn 4th in team scoring and Johnson 5th. Combined, the two 23 year olds have 49 points in 88 games, or .557 points per game.
On the back end, Tampa Bay’s young core of defensemen has played extremely well, with young D-men like Victor Hedman and Radko Gudas stepping up their roles, as well as veteran players like Matt Carle and Sami Salo mentoring the younger players. The Lightning are tied for 15th in the league in PK%, coming in at 80.8%, only 9.2% less efficient then the league’s best PK, which belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins (89.0%)
Ben Bishop has emerged as the teams starting goalie, and he’s been impressive. The biggest goalie in the league, standing 6 feet 7 inches above the ice, Bishop is currently 6th in Goals Against Average, with a GAA of 1.86. He is also 6th in Save Percentage with a .935 SV%. In the 32 games Ben Bishop has played this year, he has an impressive record of 22-5-3, as well as posting 4 shutouts, which leads the league.
The Lightning are already in a good spot, and once Steven Stamkos returns to the roster, they will only get better. I believe that this is a team that will easily make the playoffs, and we could even see them make it to the conference finals.