Welcome to Next Impulse’s ‘NHL Center Ice Watch’ where we highlight certain NHL games that should have your curiosity for a variety of reasons. These won’t be the obvious games that Pierre McGuire works or a game featuring boring storylines like the Sedin Twins. These are games we’ve sought out for real hockey nerds. The ones who dig deep for storylines . You can find our first post here. And hey look at this! you can find the second, third, fourth and fifth volumes here , here, here, and here!
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a sneaky franchise.
It feels like the Bolts either have an magical season, or they just suck.
For the past decade or so the Lightning have always been a team with a potent offense, but their defense and goaltending has let them down.
The past two seasons they have struggled in those departments and thus, have struggled to win games.
Three seasons ago they beat the Penguins, Capitals, and then chased the Bruins all the way to seven games before losing a heartbreaker 1-0 in Massachusetts.
The Lightning were carried that far on the strength of some absolute heroic goaltending from Dwayne Roloson. The aged netminder’s performance was desperate and gutsy and spellbinding. It took everything he had left in him to will the Lightning as far as he did, only to have them ask for more the next season. Predictably he didn’t have much left in the tank and the Bolts struggled mightily and missed the playoffs.
General Manager Stevie Y decided to take a chance on Nashville’s raw, but well-tooled backup Anders Lindback — whom Yzerman hoped was just breaching his prime.
Yzerman hoped that Lindback and Mathieu Garon would form a good enough tandemship to bring the Lightning back to the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately they didn’t and Tampa’s defense was bleh, so the Lightning found themselves with a lottery pick and a new coach. Fearing that Lindback wouldn’t become the netminder , Yzerman pulled the trigger by acquiring the coveted Ben Bishop from Ottawa for the heartwarming story of Cory Conacher. Other teams (looking at you Islanders) were in desperate need for goaltending and decided not to pay the high asking price for Bishop.
Yzerman was putting a lot of faith in Bishop. He was already wrong about one promisingly tooled but unproven goaltenders and he paid handsomely for another one.
Yzerman responded They had a quietly effective offseason, buying out Vinny Lecavalier and bringing in Valtteri Filppula from Detroit. Instead of dipping further into the free agency pool the Lightning decided to fill their holes from within and handed exciting youngsters Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn further opportunity to continue to grow into solid NHLers.
As of today Tampa finds itself atop the NHL’s Atlantic Division with a 12-4-0 record and a goal differential of +15. They are doing this through good goaltending, a solid shooting percentage, and by limiting opponents possession.
Of course having Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis doesn’t hurt either.
Whether or not Jon Cooper’s team can sustain this level of play is yet to be determined, but right now he has his team clicking and they are playing an enjoyable brand of hockey.
They don’t just get by on the skill of Stamkos and St. Louis, they play tough. Players like Radko Gudas (owner of the NHL’s best name and one helluva beard) and Nate Thompson make teams earn their ice when they play the Lightning. This toughness has turned the Lightning into a well-balanced team.
The Lightning will have a tough test on Veteran’s Day as they travel to Boston to take on the B’s in a matinee.
The Bruins came into the season as division favorites partly because nobody really knew what to expect from Cooper’s squad. These two teams have developed a bit of a rivalry since their latest playoff series, and now that the two teams play in the same division, the decibel level of this rivalry should increase.
The Lightning are often a team we forget about. They play in a smaller, non-traditional market and have taken the past two seasons off. Sure we check in on Stamkos every once in a while, but the Bolts have been largely ignored for the past two years.
Now is a good time to check back in down in St. Pete because the Bolts are killing it.