Dominant Tampa Bay Lightning Are No Flash in the Pan

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, November 2, 2017 2:23 PM UTC

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 2:23 PM UTC

The Tampa Bay Lightning have one Stanley Cup title in franchise history, but thus far the 2017-18 team looks like a top contender to hoist a second Cup come June.

You really shouldn’t be surprised that the Tampa Bay Lightning are this good.

The Bolts made the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals and lost in six close games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa entered the following season as one of the title favorites at SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks, and I believe it would have won a second Cup in franchise history had the team not blown a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Last year, the Lightning missed the postseason by just one point. You have to give them a bit of a pass for that because their best player, All-Star center Steven Stamkos, was limited to 17 games and none after mid-November due to injury. Stamkos also had missed all but one game of the 2016 postseason after having surgery for a blood clot. If he’s healthy, the Lightning win the East that year.

So far this season, the Lightning have been healthy and dominant as they lead the NHL in goal differential and are the +850 favorites at 5Dimes to win the Cup.

No team has a better 1-2 offensive punch right now than the Lightning’s Stamkos and right winger Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos was named the NHL’s No. 1 star for October and Kucherov No. 2. They became only the seventh set of teammates since 1973-74 to record simultaneous points streaks of at least 11 games to begin a season. As of this writing, Stamkos and Kucherov are 1-2 in the league in points and Kucherov leads in goals. They are among the early Hart Trophy NHL betting favorites.

Stamkos has gone from one of the league's elite goal scorers – he led the NHL in goals in 2009-10 (51) and 2011-12 (60) and is second in the league in goals since his debut in 2008-09 -- to more of a point guard as he is tops in the NHL in assists. Add in Brayden Point and Vladislav Namestnikov, and Tampa has four of the top 30 scorers in the NHL.

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In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been terrific in leading the league in wins – in fact, he leads in wins since Feb. 27 of last season. Yeah, he’s not Top 10 in goals-against average, but he doesn’t need to be considering Tampa is the NHL’s highest-scoring team and second on the power play.  If there’s one concern, it’s that Vasilevskiy leads the NHL for shots against, but he also leads in saves.

The biggest offseason change to the Lightning’s roster was the trade of talented but enigmatic forward Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in exchange for defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 draft pick. Sergachev is a Calder Trophy candidate and among the league leaders in points by a blueliner.

Tampa is not a big team -- of the club’s top 14 players, only three are taller than 6 feet. That somewhat goes against the grain in the modern-day NHL, but the Lightning are using their small size and speed to maintain possession of the puck (Top 10 in Corsi and Fenwick).

GM Manager Steve Yzerman has built arguably the fastest-skating team in hockey and perhaps the most entertaining south of Toronto. It’s just too bad the Leafs and Lightning are in the same Atlantic Division because they wouldn’t be able to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals due to the NHL’s silly playoff structure.

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