It was the first part of November when the Tampa Bay Lightning lost Steven Stamkos, one of the league’s best—if not THE best—offensive threat in the game—for the season with a broken tibia. A season which had debatable prospects anyway, was now an even bigger lost cause. Or so it seemed.
Tampa Bay has stepped up and become the third-best team in the Eastern Conference coming into Tuesday’s games, trailing only the conference powers, Pittsburgh and Boston, and being only two points back of the Bruins at that. How has this come about?
It’s started by the Lightning becoming a different kind of hockey team without Stamkos. The defense ranks eighth in the NHL overall, and they are succeeding in all phases of defensive play. Tampa Bay keeps the exposure of its goalies limited, ranking ninth in shots allowed. And goaltender Ben Bishop has a 93.5 % save rate, the best in the league.
When you limit shots on goal and stop the ones the opponents do take, it stands to reason you’re going to win quite a few hockey games. What’s even more intriguing is that Bishop has dealt with a nagging wrist injury, and has split a lot of time with Anders Lindback in net. What happens if Bishop starts assuming a more full-time role? If he’s able to handle it, Tampa Bay becomes a real Stanley Cup threat come spring.
The Lightning still need to generate offense, and they rank 10th in the NHL in scoring. Martin St. Louis is still going strong at age 38. The man who won the MVP award during Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup season, has scored 17 goals and dished 43 assists. Teddy Purcell has 25 assists.
Overall, the offense does remain a long-term concern. They rank only 18th in shots generated. Teams with a great scorer can often score at a rate above their shots, even over a long period of time. As much respect as St. Louis deserves, the man is 38, and he just seems to be carrying too big a burden.
If the Lightning want to move into the NHL’s top tier, they either need to trade for a scorer or find someone who can step up. Or maybe Stamkos can get a hold of the same stuff the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs used to miraculously recover from season-ending injuries in time for their team’s 2012 Super Bowl ride.
What is amazing though, is that we can even have a credible conversation about what Tampa Bay needs to do to win a Stanley Cup, or compete with Pittsburgh and Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Tampa should have been left for dead. Instead, they hit the East with a Lightning bolt.