Here it is, halfway through the NHL season. At this point, it is pretty clear who are the contenders, who are on the bubble, and who have zero hope of reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are clearly in the first category. Not only are they contenders, they remain the best team in the league. As of January 10th, the Bolts are 31-9-3, good for 65 points, the most in the league. Just behind them is the surprise team in not just the NHL, but in all of sports, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who are 29-10-2 with 60 points. If anyone expects the bottom to fall out sometime for the Lightning, don’t plan on it. Yes, they did lose back-to-back games the first week of January — one of those loses coming in a 2-1 shootout versus Montreal. But Tampa Bay is 7-2-1 in its last ten games. They also went 11-2 for the month of December. After a run like that, a little bump in the road is expected. But the Lightning responded from those back-to-back losses with back-to-back wins over Detroit and Carolina.
The Lightning are tops in the league in several key categories. They rank number one in goals per game at 3.7. Six players are at double digits in goals, with Nikita Kucherov collecting 27. The defense has been just as strong, with Tampa Bay allowing 2.4 goals per game, the 2nd best average in the NHL. Along with Andrei Vasilevskiy having a 2.10 GAA, only two players on the roster have a plus-minus rating in the negative numbers. The defensemen can also get into the scoring act as well, as the blue liners have put up 30 goals this season, led by Mikhail Sergachev with eight. Your text to link… They are also third in the power play at 24.7 percent.
The Lightning’s winning ways have allowed them to build up a 12-point lead over Boston and Toronto in the Atlantic Division, and that’s with the Bruins recent 8-0-2 run. The only way for Tampa Bay to lose its hold on the division is with an epic collapse. That, however, appears unlikely.