What's going on in Tampa Bay?

Living on Canada’s west coast, Tampa is about as far away from me as the NHL gets. So perhaps that’s why I never really paid much attention to the league’s perennial losing franchise, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But as of Saturday morning they’re sitting in first place in their division, seeded third in the conference. So what gives? I’ll try and explain. If any of you do actually follow Tampa Bay please feel free to jump in with any corrections, explanations, or conspiracy theories. Especially in regards to their coaching, which I don’t know enough about to comment on.

Goaltending

Khabibulin is Khabibulin. Everyone knows he’s solid. But where the team has really improved is in goal with mid-season acquisition John Grahame. Usually Tampa’s backup goaltending is so porous that it’s a wonder they don’t scout Florida beer leagues for a more capable guy. But Grahame has kept his GAA in Tampa under 2 and I think has been a big reason why Tampa’s been so successful recently.

Offense

No one mentions the Bolts with the top offensive teams, but they are currently ranked ninth in goals scored per game and are the only team in the league with five players who have 50 or more points (only Colorado, Detroit and Washington have four players who have reached the half century mark). Honestly, how many people took Prospal, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Richards or Boyle early in their pool?

It’s hard to pick one guy who’s really stood out from this crowd, but I’d go with defenseman Dan Boyle. Lecavalier and Richards have always had huge potential and Prospal and St. Louis were solid sleepers going into the season, but did anyone see Boyle doing this well? He’s nearly doubled his previous best points total from last season and has drastically turned it around in the plus/minus department.

If Tampa can keep this core they could have one hell of a blitzkrieg when young guys like Alexeev and Svitov come around.

Defense

The Bolts sit around the middle of the pack in GAA per game; they’re 14th. This is one area the Bolts could some improvement in. Aging powerplay specialist Andreychuk and lightweight goon Dingman are the only two players with a double-digit plus/minus ranking; they’re both –10.

One guy on defense that has not impressed me this year is Pavel Kubina. Despite his team’s marked improvement his numbers have fallen off the coast of Florida. It’s conceivable that he could have a strong flurry to end the year and boost those numbers up, but we’re talking an eastern Canadian winter type of flurry here. Three goals is a huge disappointment from Kubina.

Outlook

The Bolts have a game in hand on Washington and seem to have an easier schedule, although as everyone should know, no game is a certain win for any team in the league.

Tampa:

Home: Minnesota, New Jersey, Florida, Montreal, Philadelphia

Road: Montreal, LA, Phoenix, San Jose, Boston, Atlanta

The home schedule looks much tougher with teams like Minnesota, Jersey, and Philadelphia coming to town. Although it’s no Battle of Alberta, the game against Florida should be spirited and Montreal will be desperate to try sneak into the playoffs.

Same goes for tonight’s game in Montreal. The rest of Tampa’s schedule is against non-playoff teams, with the exception of Boston, who only recently have woken up from their winter hibernation. LA, San Jose, and Phoenix have recently gone through some turnover, so they should be games in which the Bolts stand a pretty good shot at two points.

Washington:

Home: Colorado, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Florida

Away: Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto

Washington’s home games also look fairly difficult, Well, at least the Colorado and Ottawa games. Any way the Caps can pick up even two points combined from these two games should be considered a victory. And as a Canucks’ fan I hope somebody beats the Avalanche. Might as well be the Caps. Pittsburgh and Florida should be victories for the nation’s capital. The Caps’ chances at the third seed really hinder on their roadtrip, which takes them to every single Canadian NHL team. Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto will all be difficult games for the Caps, as will Edmonton and Montreal, both in playoff races. As usual Calgary’s just winding down the season, but this game will be crucial for the Caps to win to get off to a good start on the road.

My prediction: the Bolts should hold Washington off and win the division and perhaps even meet the Capitals in the first round.

I realize few people are going to comment or care about the Lightning. But after all the bashing I’ve directed towards this team over the years it’s time to give them some long-deserved credit.


28 Responses to What's going on in Tampa Bay?

  1. Rampage_Winger says:

    Two words: Vaclav Prospal. The guy is pacing the Bolts with 71 points in 69 games this year, ahead of supposed wunderkind Vinny Lecavalier. Of course, the whole team has stepped up, but somebody notice this guy and his 50+ assists!

  2. mikster says:

    They’re a very tough team to beat, but they don’t have all that much. If Khabibulin plays decent goaltending, then this team can’t even come close to winning a game…and it was proven so in that two month slump.

  3. aaron says:

    Khabibulin has been playing sh*tty all season. Don’t say they don’t have all that much. You just don’t think they have much b/c you don’t pay any attention to them.

    They were actually my sleeper to make the playoffs this season. I didn’t put them in there b/c too many things would have had to go right, but I said that if they could get the type of production out of Richards, St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Modin that I knew all 4 were capable of (I was right on 3 of 4, but Prospel stepped up to make up for Modin being average), and that if Khabibulin played like he did last year (which he didn’t, but it doesn’t seem to matter), they’d probably be a playoff team. Guess I was right.

  4. jpmac says:

    I think that Brad Richards is a better player then Prospal…Maybe the only reason is that i am an Island boy too…and gotta stick up for another Island boy…..but Richards I think is one of the most underrated players in the league

  5. oilersofthefuture says:

    tbay is a big surprise this season, i think khabibulin is the key.

    yes every team has to score but that comes naturally. the only bad thing is not much leadership going in to the playoffs they will be the underdogs, despite the great season.

    note:watch out for the leafs down the stretch.

    also look for the oilers in 6th or 7th place

    GO OIL GO

  6. mikster says:

    Off topic.

    Finally the bleeding is over. Rangers are out and they deserve to be after they played like total crap against a hussling skill challenged Devils team.

    Let them lose all the way, let the Panthers surpass them so they can get the better overall pick.

  7. mikster says:

    Khabibulin had a great start, then he started slumping and the team was goign on a major losing pattern, and now he is so-so.

    I do pay attention to them and i hope they lose to the Canadiens. Down with the Rangers…give them the better overall pick for the 1st round and hopefully the Panthers will surpass them.

  8. DaMick says:

    Tampa is a very scary team……watching Vinny & Richards float around the ice the way they do….

    Bulin being a wall again…

    honestly..in 2-3 years this team might be a serious stanley cup contender…

    in regards to Miki’s white flag comment….

    ummm…you shouldnt toss it in yet….you guys play the Isles monday…..THATS the game…

    if the ranger$ lose….

    they are done.

    HTR’s resident RangerHater & LeafBasher

    DaMick

  9. mikster says:

    They will….and so what if they don’t….they won’t make it. If they do, i will be in shock.

  10. keon says:

    Brad Richards is the man….

  11. The_Coach says:

    I will definitely give credit where it is due. TB has had an excellent run of late and I am glad to see them with an excellent shot at winning their division and making the dance.

    That being said, I do not believe that they will survive their first playoff round. Tampa reminds me of the Senators from about 3 years ago. All of their draft picks are starting to blossem, they are skilled and fast. The problem as I see it is depth and grit, the two key elements for any playoff contender. OK there is a third key element but they have that covered, goaltending.

    So, even though they will have a very short playoff experiece, two home games will inject some extra money into their bank account and I will be an excellent learning experience for a group of future stars.

  12. flyersruleclarkstillsucks says:

    how good is vinny? man people were dead on when they said vinny lecavalier was going to be a great player, and what’s up with vinny prospal, this guy showed some signs of being a good player when we was in philly, but not this good! and st. louis is one of the smallest player in the nhl but keep lighting the lamp, thats all heart!

  13. Isles83 says:

    LETS GO ISLANDERS!!!

  14. Isles83 says:

    Sens have nuttin on us NOMORE!!!

    LETS GO ISLANDERS!!

    or as canadians say

    GO ISLES GO!

  15. Pock says:

    Skill challenged? We may not have the talent of the rangers, but we’re far from skill challenged. For the love of christ Burns, if we couldn’t trade Tverdosky atleast play him!

  16. NHL_expert says:

    Hey I give the bolts a ton of credit, look at their payroll compared to the Rangers for christ sake, That cancer up in NY isnt even going to make the playoffs. When a team like Tampa Bay is in the playoffs with the payroll they have and a team like the rangers is going to be playing golf real soon, hell that says alot, it just goes to show you, you dont have to sign every “name” out there to be a good team in the NHL, you find a good goalie, get good character guys in the locker room, build thru the draft, and eventually it will pay off, the way the Rangers go about building a team is just embarassing, picking up any “name” player available, overlooking the biggest problem they have whih is defense, you would think that a team who cant keep another team from scoring would pick up some D help, what do the rangers do, kovie and carter….brilliant!, Boy Id hate to be Carter who went from the playoffs to early summer, I read an article yesterday pointing out how pissed he was that he was traded to the rangers, can you blame the guy? Anyway congrats to the Bolts they deserve it.

  17. NHL_expert says:

    Hey I give the bolts a ton of credit, look at their payroll compared to the Rangers for christ sake, That cancer up in NY isnt even going to make the playoffs. When a team like Tampa Bay is in the playoffs with the payroll they have and a team like the rangers is going to be playing golf real soon, hell that says alot, it just goes to show you, you dont have to sign every “name” out there to be a good team in the NHL, you find a good goalie, get good character guys in the locker room, build thru the draft, and eventually it will pay off, the way the Rangers go about building a team is just embarassing, picking up any “name” player available, overlooking the biggest problem they have whih is defense, you would think that a team who cant keep another team from scoring would pick up some D help, what do the rangers do, kovie and carter….brilliant!, Boy Id hate to be Carter who went from the playoffs to early summer, I read an article yesterday pointing out how pissed he was that he was traded to the rangers, can you blame the guy? Anyway congrats to the Bolts they deserve it.

  18. NHL_expert says:

    Sad that a team playing for its playoff life could only muster 17 shots on goal, how do you explain that to your fans???? All those “name” players and all that money could only buy you 17 shots when you needed them the most, thats sad, a pure cancer to the NHL.

  19. NHL_expert says:

    Prospal is a having an unreal year! wow, I knew he was a good player when he was in Philly, but not this good, I like the way he plays, like he has a chip on his shoulder, like he has something to prove! a ton of heart! if on the rangers had more players like him, they might be able to hold on to that 10th seed, LOL!

  20. WeStSiDe says:

    They are a decent team, and if they play Washington in the first round it will be close, but they wont go past that, but still that is a good accomplishment for a team like that..

  21. BosBrn says:

    One win = NOTHING!!! Don’t count your chickens before thay hatch.

    Although I’m glad the Isles won, it helped me win over $150 on a parlay last night.

  22. OldNord says:

    I think that he have no huge Lightnings’s fans on HTR. Until now, I never saw one.

  23. devfanman4 says:

    The rangers are the skill challenged teams. The Devils made them look bad with their great play. Dunham’s weak goaltending didn’t help the Rangers’ cause either. Don’t call the Devils a skill challenged team…they still don’t know when to book tee times for.

  24. devfanman4 says:

    If Carter was pissed…he should’ve taken a pay cut and stayed in Edmonton. Anyone looking for more money today in the NHL is asking to be traded.

  25. jpmac says:

    Your damn right he his

  26. DaAvs says:

    Actually I’ve been high on the Bolts since they acquired Khabi, I knew with Modin, St. Louis, Richards, and Lecaviller they could be good. Prospal caught me off guard as well as Boyle. I wrote a comment that this team could steal the East. I still believe it, that if Khabi turns it on will be awesome. Belfour is the other wild card. I believe you can’t get anywhere without a goaltender to steal a series. And I change my sentiments on Cechmanek, he can do well in the playoffs. But still needs to prove more then a streaky goaltender.

  27. amok says:

    Heh. Maybe I’ll be associated with the Lightning, which is kind of amusing since I used to mock them all the time. Oh well. Go Lightning! (and Canucks)

  28. OldNord says:

    I’m talking about a huge true fan of Tampa Bay.

    DaAvs, I guess you’re a huge fan of Denver.

    Amok, you’re a Canucks is one.

    So they aren’t a really big fan of the TB Lightnings on here.

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