Heading into the 2013-2014 NHL season, many analysts expected the Tampa Bay Lightning to be improved but not serious contenders within the Eastern Conference. However, for a team that made very few significant offseason changes, other than the buyout of captain Vincent Lecavalier and subsequent signing of former Detroit Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula, the Lightning look to be better than last year, when they finished with the third worst record in the entire league. By how much though?
While many probably remember last season’s epic collapse following a sizzling hot 6-1 start, there’s a case to be made that this Lightning team has what it takes to be considered legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. Of course, the East currently boasts many sub .500 teams, making the question of whether they’re a team worth taking seriously easier to answer: they are.
The Lightning are the sixth highest scoring team in the league right now, averaging 3.21 goals per game. All that despite the fact they don’t shoot the puck nearly enough, evidenced by their abysmal 26.6 shots per game. Both their power play and penalty kill have improved from earlier this season as well, now ranking in the top 10.
Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Offensively, the Lightning have enough firepower to hang with anyone. They boast two of the league’s brightest stars in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, plus 2009 second overall pick Victor Hedman who’s proven he can score and play defense.
It remains to be seen, though, if the Lightning can keep the puck out of their own net on a consistent basis. They’re currently tied with Vancouver and Detroit for 10th in the league, allowing 2.50 goals against per game.
Between the pipes, Ben Bishop looks to be more than capable of carrying the load. He’s taken the no.1 job and run with it, which is a good sign seeing as Anders Lindback‘s struggled in most of his game action this year. As much of a question mark as it was entering the season, their goaltending’s been better than advertised.
Overall, you have to look at Tampa Bay as a team capable of challenging the best teams in the East this season. They have the offense and special teams to do it. If they can continue getting solid netminding, and are able to eliminate turnovers, this is a team capable of making some major noise in the Eastern Conference.