The most dangerous club in the National Hockey League will
be at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night – and no, we’re not talking about
the home team.
Little has changed for the Lighting since the Flyers did
battle against them in Tampa Bay 10 days ago. They maintain a firm grasp on
first place in the Southeast Division by virtue of their 12 points off of a 6-2
record. They also continue to exhibit the most explosive offense in the NHL,
only while the rest of the league has come back down to earth, the Bolts are
still setting an absolutely ludicrous pace.
Tampa Bay is averaging 4.88 goals per game, over a full
point more than second-place St. Louis. They’ve been held to three goals or
less in just two games – both losses – with their lowest output of the season currently
at two. Meanwhile the Lightning have scored five on two occasions, six on two
more occasions, and have set the bar with eight goals in a game already.
It’s a lot of the usual suspects. Two-time NHL goal scoring
champion is at it again, placing third with seven tallies, and second with 16
points. Six-time All Star Martin St. Louis is hot on Stamkos’ heels in with 14
points, while captain Vincent Lecavalier has chipped in 11.
But new arrivals have made the squad more formidable to
opposing goaltenders than ever. Rookie Cory Conacher, a player that went
undrafted out of college due to his size (5-7, 176), is off to a torrid start,
leading all rookies in points (12), assists (7), plus-minus (7), and tied for
the league lead with goals (5). Free-agent pickup and former Flyer Matt Carle
has quickly installed himself as an opportune scorer as well, leading all Tampa
Bay defensemen with six points.
They’ve come together to create a devastating attack under head
coach Guy Boucher, who in his first two seasons with the Lightning had his
squad finish in the top 10 in scoring. They also fell one game short of a
Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2010-11.
They’re a force to be reckoned with against any team in the
NHL, not just the Flyers – although the Orange & Black have had their
troubles with them.
The Lightning won the last meeting 5-1. Philly got out to an
early lead on a fluke goal, but Tampa stole the momentum after killing a
four-minute 5-on-4, then took advantage of backup netminder Michael Leighton
making his first start of the year. While it was a questionable decision to
start Leights that night (or ever), Ilya Bryzgalov hasn’t fared much better
against them. Bryz went 1-2-1 against the Bolts last season, posting a 3.44 GAA
and awful .814 SV%.
It’s probably unlikely Tampa Bay continues on at quite this
obnoxious of a pace, but at this rate they are likely to finish as one of the
top two or three highest-scoring teams in the NHL this season. So far, the most
any opponent has been able to do is slow the Lightning down, and give their
forwards a chance to take advantage of suspect defense and goaltending.
Tough for a team like the Flyers, less than full strength
and hardly averaging over two goals a game, to compete in that environment. Then
again, over the long haul it’s going to be tough for anybody in the NHL to
compete with this explosive offense.
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