Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate a win. (Gerry Thomas/Getty Images)
After dismantling Montreal on Tuesday night, the Lightning find themselves atop the Eastern Conference. With no signs of slowing down, is there anybody in the East that can really compete with Tampa Bay?
Last night’s game in Montreal was a battle between the two top teams, at least in terms of points, in the Eastern Conferece. What was thought would be a heated battle between two teams struggling for supremacy in the East was, simply put, a beatdown.
While the score was only 4-2, the Lightning dominated possession to the tune of a 61.5 percent Corsi For at even strength. According to WarOnIce, Tampa Bay out-chanced the Montreal nearly two-to-one, registering 25 legitimate scoring opportunities to Montreal’s 13 while playing 5-on-5. And the thing is, this isn’t the only game the Lightning have dominated like this in 2014-15. It won’t be the last, either.
If you’ve been sleeping on the Lightning to this point in the season, it might be time to stop now. If there was any part of your being that thought maybe, just maybe, Tampa Bay isn’t as good as their record, you can cast those doubts aside. The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team bound for something special, and it’s hard to believe anyone in the Eastern Conference will stand in their way.
There will be those that point to the Lightning’s record, 26-12-4, and point out that their 56 points only puts them three ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, who have three and two games in hand, respectively. They may also point out that Montreal has a chance at overtaking them, with 54 points and having played only 40 games to Tampa’s 42.
But the fact of the matter is the Lightning aren’t the class of the Eastern Conference simply because the standings say so. They are because they dominate nearly every aspect of the game. When it comes to all the advanced metrics, things like Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages, it only gives more credence to Tampa Bay’s current claim as top contenders for the East’s throne.
When it comes to driving possession, the Lightning are an elite team, up alongside the likes of accepted possession royalty like Chicago and Los Angeles. At 5-on-5, the Lightning are the best team in the Eastern Conference at winning the shots on goal battle, the Corsi battle, and the Fenwick battle. Their percentages break down as such: a 55.6 shots for percentage and 55.3 Fenwick For percentage, both best in the NHL, with a 54.6 Corsi For percentage, good for third in the league. All the while, it’s not like there’s any indication the Lightning will slow down, as they’ve got a PDO sitting at 100.8, indicative of consistent, strong play that shouldn’t trail off any time soon.
With the score close at 5-on-5, which most believe to be a truer measure of a team’s dominance, the Lightning breakdown as the best team in the league in shots for percentage, with their Fenwick For and Corsi For both sitting in second place. The only team in the East with better underlying numbers in any of these categories is the New York Islanders, who have the league’s best Fenwick For with the score close. Those very same Islanders may just be the only team that can overtake the Lightning, but it’s hard to imagine that happening.
It’s not just the underlying numbers that are scary for the opposition, either. It’s the way players like Tyler Johnson, he of 17 goals and 45 points, or his linemates Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov are playing. It’s that the offense has depth, and isn’t simply centered around all-world sniper Steven Stamkos anymore. It’s that the defense can activate, move the puck up ice, and make the opposition pay.
On top of it all, too, consider that Ben Bishop is proving he wasn’t simply a flash in the pan last season when he posted the best numbers of his career. Though he’s not posting the outrageous totals he did last season when he registered a .924 save percentage, his numbers in 2014-15 are strong enough that goaltending shouldn’t be an issue for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay is also one of only three teams in the entire NHL that hasn’t lost three consecutive games all season. The other two are the West’s Nashville and Chicago. The ability to shake off losses and keep moving forward will be huge come playoff time, and it’s surprising the poise the fifth youngest team in the league has shown in that regard. It’s in Tampa Bay’s age, too, that other teams should be worried.
With smart maneuvering by GM Steve Yzerman, the Lightning are positioned to be together for a long while. And it wouldn’t be crazy to say that a second Stanley Cup could be in Tampa Bay’s future.