Tha Sports Junkies 101

The Lightning bolt through first quarter competition

Lightning Spencer Lee via Flickr


The Tampa Bay Lightning currently hold the top spot in ESPN’s NHL power rankings as of Thursday. It is no fluke. They currently stand atop the Atlantic Division with a record of 12-2-2 through 16 games played. With a lethal offense led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning have scored 64 goals, trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Lightning have everything a Stanley Cup team needs, but can the Bolts remain red hot? It is a long and grueling season, but the Lightning have what it takes to sustain their powerful start.

Repairing Wounds

Last season, the Lightning finished with 94 points, ending a disappointing season. They stood one win away from the playoffs, knowing full well they had a threatening roster.

Changes had to be made and that’s exactly the approach GM Steve Yzerman had taken in the offseason. In June, The former Red Wings’ superstar shipped Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev and a second round pick. This move left Bolts’ fans questioning the direction of the hockey club. There are no questions anymore.

Rather than sweeping house and acquiring a whole new team, Yzerman realized his team’s potential. He locked up Tyler Johnson for seven years and Ondrej Palat for five. He also re-signed young players such as Slater; Koekkoek, Yanni Gourde and Jake Dotchin. All of who have all been instrumental to the team’s early success.


The Lightning hold the most frightening line in hockey, plain and simple. As a whole, they have posted 29 of the Lightning’s 64 goals. Their chemistry has been off the charts so far. Take a look:

With Stamkos fully recovered from his blood clot injury, the Lightning’s first line has proven it is the league’s best. Stamkos currently leads the NHL in assists, which is something quite out of his character. Since his debut in 2008, Stamkos has only posted two seasons with more assists than goals. Through 16 games played, Stamkos has recorded a league-leading 28 points (7G, 21A). It sure looks like Stamkos is liking his new and improved linemates.

Nikita Kucherov also holds a league record so far… goals. Through 16 games, Kucherov has scored an absurd 15 goals, which puts him on pace to possibly score 50 goals in 50 games. The last player to achieve this was Brett Hull in 1991. Players like Jagr, Ovechkin and even Stamkos posted similar early season numbers, but none were able to sustain them. Kucherov’s ability to maintain his scoring touch could make or break the Lightning’s success.

The final member of the Lightning’s first line is Vladislav Namestnikov. What A Name. Besides his lengthy Russian name, Namestnikov is a great young player. With 17 points (7G, 10A) and a +/- of 7, he has shown he fits right in. With electric speed, great hands and a quick release, Namestnikov is everything you want in a winger.

Together, the Lightning first line has combined for a total +/- of 22. Not only are they providing scoring punch in the offensive zone, but they’re getting it done in their own end. However, these three skaters are not the only reason for the Lightning’s early season success.

Depth in Numbers

When developing a playoff caliber team, depth needs to be at the forefront of focus. That is exactly what the Lightning have. Although almost half of the goals scored have come from the first line, the Lightning’s depth has delivered in other areas.

Only two forwards have produced a +/- below zero and that is not a coincidence. The Lightning roster is full of defensive minded forwards. When your bottom six is full of guys like Chris Kunitz and Ryan Callahan, your coach can feel comfortable rolling four lines.

Tyler Johnson has been moved down to third line center and J.T. Brown holds the fourth line position. The development of Brayden Point as second line center has allowed for the Lightning to expand their depth. However, when Cedric Paquette returns from injury, Jon Cooper will be faced with a tough decision.

Who do you possibly scratch at forward?

Ryan Callahan has produced the least amount of points, yet he remains on the third line. It is possible that J.T. Brown would be taken out, but the easiest decision involves Slater Koekkoek. Again, What A Name. Koekkoek is naturally a defensemen but he has been playing as a winger in recent games, and he’s played well. Saying they move Koekkoek back to defenseman, that could force Dan Girardi or even Braydon Coburn out of the lineup. These are all tough decisions that a coach wants to have, and it is a big reason why the Lightning have been so good.


You can not win a cup without good goaltending. If there’s been one thing barring a good team from winning in June, it’s their lack of an elite goaltender.

Luckily, the Lightning have found their guy: Andrei Vasilevskiy. Running his predecessor Ben Bishop out of a job last year, Andrei Vasilevskiy has shown he’s a proven starter ever since.

Through 14 games played, Vasilevskiy has the highest win total of any goaltender, posting a 12-1-1 record. His athleticism and solid height also allow for him to make the occasional eye-opener:

There’s a lot of positives from the Lightning crease. However, Peter Budaj has only played 2 of the 16 games. There is possibly a trust issue there but overall it could cause an issue. Starting goaltenders need to be well rested come April. If this trend continues, Vasilevskiy will be getting the call almost ninety percent of the time. That needs to change or the Lightning could face some problems down the road.

President’s Trophy?

So, will the Lightning end the season as the NHL’s best team? Probably. Their first line is too good and they have depth to the point in which it creates problems. The Blues are a team to watch out for as well, but their depth in comparison doesn’t match up. It’s a long season and injuries have hurt the Lightning in the past. Stamkos is injury-prone and Vasilevskiy’s playing time is worrisome. There are definitely reasons for why the Lightning may not win the President’s Trophy.

It is easy for coaches to push hard in the first third of the season to get ahead. However, the Lightning have to remember there is roughly sixty games to play.

Saying the Lightning remain a healthy lineup, there’s not many teams who can keep up with their speed and skill. They had a smart offseason, adding leadership and maintaining their chemistry.

All in all, if the Lightning remain patient and smart, they are the best team in hockey. Expect the Lightning to be a serious playoff contender come April. They are red-hot now and they certainly have the tools to keep it going.